An attractive bird, already wet, far from shy…who wouldn’t fancy a shag? They’re fun to photograph, too…
I know what you’re thinking – hell, so was I. A cormorant or shag has a lot in common with him, too.
So it’s no wonder that in my Water and Fire, one character describes another as looking like a shag on a rock when everything’s suddenly on display.
Today’s post isn’t about naked men and women, but wildlife of a different kind.
Cormorants (yes, we call them shags here, but I’m trying to get your mind off sex for a moment) are seabirds without waterproof feathers. This allows them to swim deeper underwater than many other birds in pursuit of their preferred diet of fish, eels and small water snakes, but it also means that they need to dry those feathers before they can fly.
So, they sit like a feathered clothesline, letting their plumage dry in the breeze.
They’re colony birds, so it’s not uncommon to see quite a few sitting together on a rock. The number of birds really depends on the size of the rock!
Cormorants are found throughout the world, but I’ve only seen them here in Australia. The Little Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos) and Little Black Cormorant (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris) live in the Swan River estuary, up to and including the Perth CBD, which is where I found those pictured here.
Cormorants and Satan
An interesting fact about cormorants is that, in Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan disguised himself as a cormorant before he appeared as a snake. This is quite funny, given that cormorants are often mixed up with another bird called the Australasian Darter (Anhinga novaehollandiae), otherwise known as a snake bird. They get this name for two reasons – one is that, like cormorants, they eat small water snakes and eels, and the other is because they swim with their body beneath the water and only their head and neck showing, looking more like a swimming snake than a bird. Darters also hang their wings out to dry.
Cormorants are symbolic birds in heraldry, symbolising true life regained – redemption, something Satan isn’t supposed to be able to achieve.