The arctic skua is a large seabird about the size of a common gull. Arctic skuas are pirates: chasing other seabirds, such as puffins and terns, and stealing the fish they have caught. It can often be seen flying low and fast over the waves in pursuit of prey and only comes to land to breed. It is known to be very aggressive at its breeding grounds – dive-bombing anyone who gets close to the nest.
The smaller skuas (arctic skua, the smaller long-tailed skua and the larger pomarine skua) are very similar and difficult to tell apart. Adult arctic skuas have two colour phases: a light phase with a white belly and dark back and cap and a dark phase which is uniformly dusky brown. Arctic skuas have two pointed central tail feathers that stick out beyond their main tail and broad white ‘flashes’ on the underside of the wings.
Length: 44-67cm including a tail of up to 8cm
Classified in the UK as a Red List species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review and as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
Nests on moorlands on Scottish islands and in the far north of Scotland: seen around the coasts during spring and autumn migration.
When to see
April – September
Arctic skuas are also known as ‘parasitic jaegers’: Parasitic because of its habit of stealing food from other birds (termed ‘kleptoparasitism’) and jaeger, derived from the German word for hunter, because of its predatory nature.
Average Lifespan: 12 years