On one of my visits to the Falkland Islands back in 2015; I did a land-based trip with a small group as opposed to a large sea voyage. After flying into Stanley which is the capital of the Falklands we made arrangements to travel via air to the different islands within the archipelago. Among our stops was Bleaker Island, Bleaker is home to a very large colony of Imperial Shags (aka Imperial Cormorant, Blue-eyed Cormorant, King Cormorant). These shags are monogamous and will share brooding and feeding duties. The chicks are born without down and are completely reliant on their parents.
The nesting season can be a very strenuous time for these birds; especially when food is scarce. During this time the pairs are busy tidying up or rebuilding their nests. I watched as shags flew in and dropped off huge bundles of sticks and grass only to have their neighbors steal them when they turned their backs. It was fun behavior to watch as some birds never did figure out what was happening.
While we were at Bleaker in November, I was able to get a front row seat at the large colony to photograph the shags during this peak time. These breeding communities are sometimes a bit cramped; it is not unusual for squabbles to arise on a daily basis. Most quarrels are settled after a few solid pecks but some may have dire consequences as shags are extremely territorial.
One day there was a large uproar within the colony. A shag was wandering around the colony looking for a new nest or mate, I wasn’t sure which. I watched as bird after bird viciously attacked it, most showing no mercy. It was gruesome to say the least, blood was everywhere. I honestly thought that one of the attacks would result in death but amazingly this lone shag made its way out of the colony only to shake it off.
Over the years I have had several opportunities to observe the interaction of these seasonal breeders. It isn’t enough that they have to ward off predators and endure horrific bouts of weather; they also have to survive territorial wars with each other. I have developed a deep respect and admiration for shags and their ability to fledge their young.