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Scientific classification
Phylum: Chordata

The Phalacrocoracidae family is represented by over thirty species of cormorants and shags. All but three are in the genus Phalacrocorax , the exception being the Galapagos Flightless cormorant, the Kerguelen Shag and the Imperial Shag.

These are medium to large seabirds, usually with dark plumage with areas of coloured skin. Bare patches of skin of the face are bright blue, orange, red or yellow. The bill is long, thin and hooked sharply. Their feet are four-toed and webbed, a distinguishing feature among the Pelecaniformes order.

They are coastal rather than oceanic birds, and some have colonised inland waters. They range around the world, except for Asia and central Pacific islands.

All are fish eaters which dive from the surface for their prey. They dine on small eels, fish, and even water snakes.

When they are done fishing, cormorants go ashore to dry their wings by holding them out in the sun.

They are colonial nesters, using trees, rocky islets or cliffs. The eggs are a chalky blue colour. Usually one brood a year; young are fed through regurgitation.

Man has historically exploited their fishing skills, especially in Japan.

This group is related to other Pelecaniformes as below:


Species list

  • Imperial Shag[?] (Leucocarbo atriceps) (Previously Antarctic, South Georgian, Heard, Crozet, and Macquarie Shags, Phalacrocorax bransfieldensis, georgianus, nivalis, melanogenis, and purpurascens.)
  • Kerguelen Shag[?] (Leucocarbo verrocosus) (Previously P. verrocosus.)

The King Shag of New Zealand has a number of races previous considered as full species.

The Spectacled Cormorant Phalacrocorax perspicillatus is extinct.

For an alternative scientific classification, see Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy.

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