Bird Watch – Little Shag

Kawaupaka chicks. Photo courtesy Steve Attwood.

Kawaupaka chicks. Photo courtesy Steve Attwood.

Only a mother could love these rather ugly little babies, known to Māori as kawaupaka, or the Little Shag (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos brevirostris).

There are around 36 species of shag worldwide and twelve of these are found in New Zealand; eight of them are endemic (found nowhere else in the world). In many countries they are called cormorants.

The little shag has highly variable plumage – some juveniles are all black, whereas adults are black on the back with white front markings. Feet are generally black and adults have yellow facial skin and a small black crest on the forehead. The little shag is often confused with the little black shag but the former has a longer tail.

A busy time at Little Shag HQ. Photo courtesy Steve Attwood.

A busy time at Little Shag HQ. Photo courtesy Steve Attwood.

Shags feathers are not waterproof, so you’ll often see them perched with their wings outspread, drying them. Dry wings make it easier for them to dive and stay underwater, where they fish for eels, freshwater crayfish, small fish and small crustaceans or frogs.

The birds generally live in large colonies – sometimes up to 500 individuals –  and they nest between August and February, making nests in trees for their pale blue-green eggs.

Photographs courtesy Steve Attwood, Christchurch.