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 Shag - Fact File
Phalacrocorax aristotelis
Resident along suitable coasts. Absent as a breeding bird from S/E England where it is an uncommon winter visitor.
Mainly rocky coasts and harbours. Rare on inland waters.
Similar to but smaller than a Cormorant, with thinner bill. Diagnostic crest in breeding season. Normal flight is low, close to sea, while the Cormorant often flies high..
170 cm (28")


Although the majority of shags, unlike many cormorants, do not normally wander far in winter from their breeding haunts, a small number make prolonged stays on the Norfolk coast. Overstrand, Sheringham and Wells are all favoured localities.

From time to time, however, 'wrecks' of shags take place. Invariably the victims are first-winter birds ringed as young on the Farnes, Bass Rock and Isle of May.

It has been suggested these birds from the north-east breeding colonies move south into the Wash during rough weather. A proportion are then swept inland by further storms.

During the last four decades there have been a number of shag invasions into Norfolk. One bird lingered in the centre of Norwich on the Wensum for six weeks. Its favourite ledge was the spot later selected by black redstarts for their nest.

The same year a group of three shags took up residence at Postwick. Here, the attraction was the framework of an old wooden quay heading. But these shags always looked ill at ease perching on the 45-degree timbers. They quickly became accustomed to rowing crews. Only at the last moment would they dive into the water with a resounding splash.

It is perhaps surprising that the reach of river close to the old Technical College in Norwich should have attracted immature shags during at least four winters. Maybe the tall riverside building are suggestive of a cliff-like habitat.

More interesting was the party of six shags which spent several hours in Norwich close to the railway station. Quite oblivious to the procession of football fans they dived repeatedly for fish, often surfacing within inches of the quay heading where I stood.

Most unusual 'wreck' sightings come from Bedfordshire where up to 30 shags came down to roost on a church roof. One was later captured in the churchyard. At the same time four shags (among a flock of 40) were discovered inside the giant cooling towers of Bedford Power Station.

And four more shags with a head for heights spent six hours on Peterborough Cathedral.

Locally among more impressive gatherings of shags may be mentioned 43 on Cromer lifeboat slipway, 71 at Sheringham following south-westerly gales, 40 in Brancaster harbour and 22 at Tottenhill gravel pits.

Night-time roosts are known on both Sheringham and Hunstanton cliffs

By Michael J. Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.