©Peter Cairns/2020VISION


Scientific name: Phalacrocorax aristotelis
Shag' is a very old name that means 'tufted' and refers to the small crest that this bird sports. Look out for it in spring and summer either diving for fish from the surface of the sea or nesting on coastal cliffs.

Species information


Length: 72-80cm
Wingspan: up to 1m
Weight: 1.9kg
Average lifespan: 12 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015).

When to see

January to December


Shags are large, dark waterbirds, a little bit smaller than Cormorants. They feed on fish, which they catch with their long, hook-tipped bills while swimming underwater. Shags nest on cliffs around our coasts, but are very rarely seen inland. They can often be spotted perched on a rock or bank with their wings held out. In this stance, they are able to dry their feathers off which are not waterproof.

How to identify

Smaller than a cormorant, a shag has dark green, shiny plumage, a crest and a narrower bill with a yellow gape.


Found on rocky shores all around our coasts. Breeds on rocky coastal sites, mainly in the north and west.

Did you know?

Shags can dive down to depths of up to 45m to catch fish from near the bottom of the sea. Unlike gannets, they dive from the surface of the sea. They also eat crustaceans and molluscs.