Fauna focus: Miranda cormorant

Bird bones were found near Miranda on the western shore of the Firth of Thames in the North Island of New Zealand. These bones were donated to the teaching collection of Massey University, New Zealand, for use in two of our Zoology undergraduate courses: 199.212 Vertebrate Zoology and 199.330 Ornithology.


The bones most likely belong to one of the five cormorant species that have been spotted at Miranda: little shag, black shag, pied shag, little black shag, or spotted shag. Our aim is to figure out exactly which species these bones belong to.

Checklist of birds at Miranda and the Firth of Thames.

These mystery bones present a good teaching opportunity for some taxonomic detective work, so let's see if we can identify the species.

Progress report

The first step is to get some basic measurement data from the skull of our mystery bird and the skulls of our candidate species (...coming soon!)

The skull of a species that is yet to be determined. Max length is 12.1 cm.

Candidate species

Phalacrocorax melanoleucos

Little shag (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos). Melbourne Zoo, Victoria, Australia. Image by GHouston. Sourced from Wikimedia.

Phalacrocorax carbo

Black shag (Phalacrocorax carbo). Victoria, Australia. Image by JJ Harrison. Sourced from Wikimedia.

Phalacrocorax varius

Pied shag (Phalacrocorax varius). Kapiti coast, New Zealand. Image by Pseudopanax. Sourced from Wikimedia.

Spotted shag (Phalacrocorax punctatus). Kaikoura, New Zealand. Image by Bernard Spragg. Sourced from Flickr.

Phalacrocorax punctatus
Phalacrocorax sulcirostri

Little black shag (Phalacrocorax sulcirostri). Manly, Australia. Image by DickDaniels. Sourced from Wikimedia.