Pied Shag

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Pied Shag

Phalacrocorax varius varius

Maori name: Kāruhiruhi

A little over a year ago, I wrote about the Little Shag and, by extension, shags in general. (See April 2012’s Bird Watch). The Pied and Black shags were mentioned as two other species that live in the Nelson area.  My son spotted these Pied Shags in the Haven and found them very willing to be photographed.

The Pied Shag is a handsome bird with black and white plumage and striking green eyes ringed with blue. It has a yellow patch at the front of each eye, the colour of which intensifies during breeding. The legs are black; the beak is grey. Males and females look alike.


Pied shags are primarily coastal, though a few inhabit freshwater lakes. Like all shags, they are excellent divers and swimmers, with dives up to 20 meters recorded, however, they usually only dive into shallow water to catch bottom-dwelling fish such as flounder and mullet. Fish make up most of their diet, with crustaceans and molluscs comprising the rest.

Breeding may take place year round, but it peaks between July to October and January to March.  Pied shags breed in small colonies, 5 to 30 pairs being the norm. Nests are constructed from seaweed, sticks and twigs stuck together with guano. They may be reused repeatedly and by different pairs. Nests are usually situated in trees, but occasionally are placed on the ground or on man-made structures.  Pied shags are a quiet species except around nesting sites, where they emit a variety of croaks and whistles. A clutch typically consists of  2-5 eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs and feed the chicks.  Chicks hatch after 25-33 days and fledge at 47-60 days old, but may remain with their parents for 11 weeks.  Pairs generally remain within a territory year-round, while juveniles disperse. 
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