As I was watching the Coot chicks at the lake yesterday this Black Shag flew in and stood on the wooden pontoon that is attached to the concrete of the lakeside path.
The wind was perfect for drying feathers because despite being water birds and looking very oily and waterproof these birds must dry their wings.
Shags are swift underwater swimmers, with a sharp hooked beak to help them catch fish, eels and small crustaceans. They are often seen sitting on a perch with their wings spread out, drying their feathers. This is because shags’ feathers are not waterproof. This makes it easier for them to dive and stay under water for an average of 20 to 30 seconds per dive (the observed record for kawau is 58 seconds). But it also means the birds quickly get waterlogged and cold. So after a bout of fishing, shags must spend a lot of time preening and drying to restore their feathers and warm up.
This handsome bird kept a very wary eye on me as I approached. The various turns and moves it made reminded me of a conductor in front of an orchestra or of a person relishing the first taste of summer warmth with outstretched arms.
But I also heard this nonsense poem that my Dad used to enjoy…..
The common cormorant or shag
Lays eggs inside a paper bag
The reason you will see no doubt
It is to keep the lightning out
But what these unobservant birds
Have never noticed is that herds
Of wandering bears may come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.
By Christopher Isherwood.