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Bird of the Month: The Shag

Pursuits | By John McEwen

Illustrated by Carry Akroyd

Bird of the Month: The Shag by John McEwen, illustrated by Carry Akroyd

One genus and three species of animal are named after Aristotle. The only bird among them is the shag (Phalacrocoracidae aristotelis). Its English name derives from Old English – sceacged/hairy – and refers to the small crest adults sport in the breeding season. Adam Nicolson, in The Seabird’s Cry, describes an encounter with a nesting shag on his Shiant Isles in the Minch: ‘As I came over a lip of rock, there was the shag right in front of my face, a foot away, juddering and hissing, its whole head shaking in rage and fear, terrifying as much as it was terrified of me, a fluster of beautiful dark green iridescent feathers in the mayhem of kelp stalk and guano that was its nest. ‘Ancientness bellowed at me from inside the filth-lined crevice, where, in the shadows, two or three featherless, scrotal-skinned shag chicks writhed like embryo sea monsters from...

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