Antarctic Birds: Blue-eyed Shags

Time for the flying penguins. Well, at least that’s what they’re often called. The species group collectively known as Blue-eyed Shags. Once one species with several subspecies, now split into several species, with their own separate distribution (which is also the easiest way to separate them). In South America and the Falklands, one can see the Imperial Shag, in South Georgia, the South Georgia Shag and on the Antarctic Peninsula the Antarctic Shag. All have blue eyes, a small crest and, in breeding plumage, a yellow ‘thing’ at the base of their bill. They are also black and white and differ mainly in the amount of white and black on their neck.

Antarctische Aalscholver; Antarctic Shag; Leucocarbo bransfielde
Antarctic Shag in Paradise Harbour

Due to their black and white plumage and the fact that they often breed among penguins in their colonies, they are often mistaken for penguins, especially at a distance. Their long neck and especially their ability to fly should be good giveaways that they’re no penguins, but every now and then people still mix them up.

Antarctic Shags on their nest

Antarctic Shags make their nest from kelp and other seaweed, which they dive up from the sea. Or, in some cases, steal from their neighbours. When they’re done, two eggs or three are laid, which hatch after four weeks and the chicks are fed and guarded by both parents for another 40 days before the chicks fledge.

South Georgian Shag in flight

Antarctic and South Georgian Shags both feed on fish and small crustaceans which they catch by dive pursuit. Both species spent the winter at sea, not far from their breeding grounds.



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