Arctic Skua: Large, gull-like bird with pointed wings, and pointed, projecting central tail fathers. Black cap, dark grey upperparts, buff nape, and white underparts except for dark vent. Bill dark gray with black tip, legs black. Pursues gulls and terns with swift, falcon-like flight.
Range and Habitat
Arctic Skua: Migrant breeder found in coastal moorlands in north Scotland, and Shetland and Orkney islands during summer breeding season. On summer passage can be found at coasts especially near tern colonies. Often visible flying over water, only comes to land to breed. Winters on southern oceans.
The sandpipers, plovers, buttonquail, auks, skuas, and oystercatchers are some of the nineteen families in the taxonomic order CHARADRIIFORMES (pronounced kah-RAH-dree-ih-FOR-meez).
The Stercorariidae (pronounced stehr-koh-rah-REYE-ih-dee), or skuas, encompasses seven species of skuas and jaegers in one genus that can be found in all of the world’s oceans (IOC World Bird List, version 2.3).
In Europe, five species of skuas in one genus have been identified. Among these are the graceful Long-tailed Skua and the hefty Great Skua.
Members of this family are known for their predatory and piratical behaviour. Like other skuas, the Parasitic Skua is known for expertly chasing and harassing gulls and terns until they drop their food.
The skuas look like a cross between a gull and a falcon. They are large birds with long, pointed wings (broader in larger species), have thick necks with fairly large heads, webbed feet, and medium-length bills with a hook on the end. They also have distinctive tails with projecting central tail feathers.
The large Great and South Polar Skuas are mostly brown, streaked birds with grey or rusty highlights in their plumage. Juveniles of smaller skua species have plumages similar to those of the Great Skua, while adults are creamy or white on the underparts, the Parasitic and Pomarine Jaegers sporting black breast bands. On the upperparts, adult Pomarine, Parasitic, and Long-tailed Skuas are dark brown with black caps. Most plumages of skuas also show prominent white patches in the wings at the bases of the primaries.
Skuas are bird of the Arctic, Antarctic and the open ocean. They breed on the tundra and rocky islands of the far north, and spend the rest of the year in pelagic waters mostly off of the Atlantic coast.
All members of this family are highly migratory.
Skuas are solitary predators of the high seas except when they form pairs during the breeding season and hunt for small mammals, birds (especially nestlings), and insects on the tundra. Outside of the breeding season, they occur on the open ocean where they pursue gulls, terns, and other seabirds to steal fish they have caught. Some directly attack and kill other birds, up to the size of Great Black-backed Gulls.
Skuas are not threatened in Europe and appear to have healthy populations throughout their range.
The smaller skua species are known as jaegers in North America. They get their name from the Germanic word for “hunter"; an appropriate name for these aggressive, predatory birds.