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European Shag - BirdForum Opus

Alternative names: Common Cormorant; Common Shag; Green Cormorant; Green Shag; Shag

Photo © by malgos
Farne Islands
Gulosus aristotelis

Phalacrocorax aristotelis


68-78cm (26¾-30¾ in).

  • Black plumage with metallic green sheen
  • Yellow throat patch
  • Small crest when breeding
  • Long tail

Similar Species

Great Cormorant forehead is less steep.

Juvenile/immature Shags both have a white throat. Cormorant always have dark feet and young Shags have paler feet (webs between the toes).


Confined to the Western Palearctic, the Shag breeds in western Iceland and the Faroes, coastal Arctic Russia to southern Norway, around north and west coasts of the British Isles, north-west France and northern Iberia. In the Mediterranean breeds in coastal Spain and the Balearics, Corsica and Sardinia, the eastern Adriatic, Crete and the Aegean and Cyprus. In North Africa breeds in coastal Tunisia and on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, possibly also on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt.

Photo © by the late Chocky
Devon, UK, February 2011

After breeding, some disperse short distances particularly young birds but many populations appear to be largely sedentary.

Recorded as a vagrant east to Poland and Finland, in Central Europe in the Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland and as far south as the Canary Islands and Madeira, Israel and Egypt.


Formerly included in the genus Phalacrocorax


There are 3 subspecies[1]:

  • G. a. aristotelis:
  • G. a. desmarestii:
  • G. a. riggenbachi:
  • West coast of Morocco (Casablanca to Puerto Cansado)


Photo © by IanF
South Gare, Redcar, Yorkshire, UK, March 2010

Almost exclusively marine, the Shag occasionally appears on inland waters after severe weather at sea. Breeds along rocky coastlines and islands with cliffs, birds remaining in shallow coastal seas off similar coasts in winter. Rarely appears on sandy or muddy shores.



They are inclined to fly closer to the water than Great Cormorant, with faster wing beats. May be in lines, or loose flocks.


They dive for their food, feeding from the bottom of the sea. A variety of fish is taken, but particularly the sand eel.


It breeds on coasts. The nests are built from seaweed and twigs and are placed on rock ledges, caves or crevices; 3 egge are laid. The young fledge after 8 weeks.


Diving action
Photo © by Macswede
Helensburgh, Scotland, August 2010


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Collins Field Guide 5th Edition ISBN 0 00 219900 9
  3. BF Member observations

Recommended Citation

External Links

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