Phalacrocorax melanoleucos brevirostris
Maori name: Kawaupuka
Throughout the world, there are 34 species of shags, also known as cormorants. Twelve live in New Zealand and of these, 8 are endemic: the Campbell Island shag, NZ king shag, Stewart Island shag, Auckland Island shag, Chatham Island shag, Bounty Island shag, Pitt Island shag and spotted shag. The remaining 4 species, black shag, little shag, little black shag and pied shag are native.
When you spot a shag in Nelson, it is most likely a black shag, pied shag or little shag. The black and pied shags are both large, being over 80 cm long. As you would expect, the black shag is black and the pied shag is black and white. The little shag, as the name suggests, is smaller at about 58 cm long, and can be all black or varying degrees of black and white. It can be distinguished from other shags in having a relatively short yellow bill. Both birds pictured here are little shags.
All shags are aquatic with feathers permeable to water, which minimizes their buoyancy, enabling them to swim deeper. However, without the insulating properties of air in their feathers while underwater, they are more susceptible to hypothermia. After fishing, shags dry their wings by sitting with them outstretched.
Little shags feed primarily on fish, though crayfish, frogs and aquatic insects also make up its diet. Apparently when they catch crayfish, they shake them until their claws fall off before consuming. I’m sure I’d do the same if I had a pinching wriggling crayfish in my mouth and no hands.
All shags nest in colonies, often with other bird species, building flat nests of sticks and leaves in trees, bushes or on ledges. Little shags lay between 4-6 pale blue/green eggs in each clutch. The incubation of the eggs and care of the chicks are shared by both parents.