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I always thought the Shag was all black, but I was wrong: its adult plumage is an intricate combination of vibrant metallic greens, browns and black, and it has beautiful patterning on its wings. As you can see, the Shag also has soulful green eyes, and, during the breeding season, the adult birds have a very punky crest on the tops of their heads, a combination which, obviously, makes them irresistible …. to other Shags.

Shags have a superb Latin name too, Phalacrocorax aristotelis, which is derived from Ancient Greek. Phalacrocorax is a combination of φαλακρός (phalakros) meaning bald and κόραξ (korax) meaning raven, and the epithet commemorates Aristotle. Did that Greek philosopher look like a bald raven, I wonder?

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Shags build their stick nests on rocks, sometimes on top of very high cliffs, and, on the Farne Islands, separated only by a rope barrier and monitored by a local ranger, we were able to get very very close to a couple of Shags that had chosen to nest right next to the path.

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One of the Shags was making odd motions with its head and puffing out its neck as if breathing heavily (I should’ve taken a video!). The ranger said this was to warn people off getting too close, and I’ve since found a paper that explains some aspects of the displays Shags make:

At the lowest intensity of stationary aggressiveness, the bird on the nest or nest-site points its bill at the object of aggression with gular pouch slightly distended, and at the same time makes slight lateral head-shakes without taking its eyes off the intruder.

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It was being close enough to observe such behaviour, as well as get a better look at the physical characteristics of the birds that made our visit to the Farnes so special for me.

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