New Zealand Shags Cormorants

Across the world there are three dozen species of cormorants, including the New Zealand species named as shags. 12 of the 36 species live on and around the islands of New Zealand, 8 of which are endemic to NZ.

Spotted Shags, Parekareka, Kawau tikitiki. Stictocarbo punctatus. Juvenile and Adult Birds, Curio Bay Cliffs, Catlins, South Island, New Zealand

2 Spotted Shags Cormorants Species, Juvenile and Adult Shag Birds, Phalacrocoracidae Stictocarbo punctatus, Parekareka, Kawau tikitiki. Curio Bay Cliffs, Catlins, South Island, New Zealand

You can’t fail to see at least some New Zealand shags as the more common species are all over the country and can be seen on or around beaches, rocks, cliffs, rivers, estuaries, and inland they inhabit some freshwater lakes too.

The outline of shags is iconic, whether perched or resting, drying their outstretched wings, or flying along straight and low above water or land.

Adult Pied Shag / Cormorant Bird, Kāruhiruhi, Karuhiruhi, Kawau. Phalacrocorax varius. Takitimu Drive Walkway, Tauranga Harbour Estuary, North Island, New Zealand

Pied Shag Species Drying Wing Feathers, Adult Pied Cormorant Bird, Phalacrocoracidae Phalacrocorax varius, Kāruhiruhi, Karuhiruhi, Kawau, Large Pied Shag, Yellow-faced Cormorant. Tauranga Harbour Estuary, Bay of Plenty, North Island, New Zealand

New Zealand Shags Species List

The species you are most likely to see are Pied Shag, Little Shag, Spotted Shag, Little Black Shag, and Black Shag. Scroll down for full list.

Adult Little Shag / Little Cormorant Bird, Kawau Paka. Phalacrocoracidae Phalacrocorax melanoleucos. Tauranga Harbour Estuary, Bay of Plenty, North Island, New Zealand

Little Shag Species, Adult Little Cormorant Bird, Phalacrocoracidae Phalacrocorax melanoleucos, Kawau Paka, Little Cormorant, White-throated Shag, Little Pied Shag, Little Pied Cormorant. Tauranga Harbour Estuary, Bay of Plenty, North Island, New Zealand

If you hope to see New Zealand King Shags you have to get on a boat at the top of the South Island as they are an endangered species of cormorant only found in Marlborough Sounds. Wildlife tours can be taken from Picton that include a visit to the NZ King Shag colony.

Little Black Shag / Little Black Cormorant Bird. Kawau tūi, Kawau tui. Phalacrocoracidae Phalacrocorax sulcirostris. Takitimu Drive Walkway, Tauranga Estuary, Bay of Plenty, North Island, New Zealand

Little Black Shag Fishing, Adult Little Black Cormorant Bird Species, Phalacrocoracidae Phalacrocorax sulcirostris, Kawau tūi, Kawau tui. Takitimu Drive Walkway, Tauranga, Bay of Plenty, North Island, New Zealand

This list is alphabetical and in no particular order whether common or endangered species.

Phalacrocoracidae is the family name of all the bird species known as cormorants and shags.

Auckland Island Shag - Leucocarbo colensoi

Conservation: Vulnerable

Other Common Names: Auckland Island Shag, Auckland Island Cormorant.

Black Shag - Phalacrocorax carbo

Conservation: Uncommon

Common Names: Black Shag, Black Cormorant, Kawau, Large Black Shag, Great Cormorant.

Bounty Island shag - Leucocarbo ranfurlyi

Conservation: Uncommon

Common Names: Bounty Island Shag, Bounty Island Cormorant.

Campbell Island Shag - Leucocarbo campbelli

Conservation: Uncommon

Common Names: Campbell Island Shag, Campbell Island cormorant.

Chatham Island Shag - Leucocarbo onslowi

Conservation: Nationally Critical

Common Names: Chatham Island Shag, Chatham Island Cormorant, Chatham Shag.

Little Black Shag - Phalacrocorax sulcirostris

Little Black Shag / Cormorant

Conservation: Uncommon

Common Names: Little Black Shag, Little Black Cormorant, Kawau tūi, Kawau tui.

Little Shag - Phalacrocorax melanoleucos

Little Shag / Cormorant

Conservation: Not Threatened

Common Names: Little Shag, Kawau Paka, Little Cormorant, White-throated Shag, Little Pied Shag, Little Pied Cormorant.

Macquarie Island Shag - Leucocarbo purpurascens

Conservation: Not known

Common Names: Macquarie Island Shag, Macquarie Island Cormorant.

New Zealand King Shag - Leucocarbo carunculatus

Conservation: Nationally Endangered

Common Names: New Zealand King Shag, Kawau, New Zealand King Cormorant, King Shag, Marlborough Sounds Shag, Cook Strait Cormorant, Carunculated Shag.

Pied Shag - Phalacrocorax varius

Pied Shag / Cormorant

Conservation: Recovering

Common Names: Pied Shag, Pied Cormorant, Kāruhiruhi, Karuhiruhi, Kawau, Large Pied Shag, Yellow-faced Cormorant.

Pitt Island Shag - Stictocarbo featherstoni

Conservation: Critical

Common Names: Pitt Island Shag, Pitt Island Cormorant, Pitt shag.

Spotted Shag - Stictocarbo punctatus

Spotted Shag / Cormorant

Conservation: Not Threatened

Common Names: Spotted Shag, Spotted Cormorant, Parekareka, Kawau tikitiki, Blue Shag (a southern subspecies).

Stewart Island Shag - Leucocarbo chalconotus

Conservation: Recovering

Common Names: Stewart Island Shag, Kawau, Stewart Island Cormorant, Bronze Shag, Gray’s Shag, Otago Shag, Foveaux Shag.

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New Zealand Shag Conservation and Law

At the time of writing, and from what I can determine, all species of New Zealand Shags are protected by law except the Little Shag and the Black Shag. It appears to me that the Fish and Game Council are allowed to kill these two species if a shag has either injured or eaten fish from a sport fish facility, or they are within 200 metres of such a facility. Following killing of shag the Fish and Game Council then has to record and report the killing to the Director-General at the office of the Department of Conservation. I read the above information in the Wildlife (Black Shag and Little Shag) Notice 2012, which may be subject to change.

The public are not permitted to kill or capture species of New Zealand Shag / Cormorant.

If you should see an injured shag, cormorant, please report it to the Department of Conservation so that they can arrange for the bird to receive treatment and/or record the injury. This is definitely important if it should be one of the uncommon or endangered species, but also for any of the species in case the injury should reveal a lot of birds getting injured or killed in the same area which in turn can be prevented, such as dog attacks etc.

Group of Little Shags / Little Cormorants, Kawau Paka, Juvenile and Adult Birds with Different Plumage. Phalacrocoracidae Phalacrocorax melanoleucos. Port of Napier, Hawkes's Bay, NZ

Group of 3 Little Shags, Juvenile and Adult Little Cormorant Birds, Phalacrocoracidae Phalacrocorax melanoleucos, Kawau Paka, Little Cormorant, White-throated Shag, Little Pied Shag, Little Pied Cormorant. Port of Napier, Hawkes's Bay, North Island, New Zealand