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Arctic skua (Stercorarius parasiticus)

The Arc­tic skua lives up to its name: it attacks other birds such as kit­ti­wa­kes and seagulls in flight and cha­ses away their prey. Eggs and chicks of other birds are also not safe from the Arc­tic skua.

Arctic skua

Arc­tic skua, Horn­sund

Descrip­ti­on: The Arc­tic skua is a com­pact, medi­um-sized skua (length inclu­ding tail fea­thers 46 cm, weight 350-600 g). It has a con­trast-rich plu­mage with dark cap, white neck and bel­ly and dark back and upper wings. The Arc­tic skua is often con­fu­sed with the Poma­ri­ne skua and Long-tail­ed skua, alt­hough the lat­ter two are much less com­mon in Spits­ber­gen. The size and the shape of the tail are dia­gnostic. The Long-tail­ed skua is slight­ly smal­ler and more ele­gant in shape; the Arc­tic skua has a shor­ter tail than both Long-tail­ed skua and Poma­ri­ne skua.

As well as the “nor­mal”, con­tras­ty plu­mage, the­re is a dark morph with com­ple­te­ly dark fea­thers. The dark morph is rare in Sval­bard.

Dis­tri­bu­ti­on / Migra­ti­ons: The Arc­tic skua breeds ever­y­whe­re in the Arc­tic and sub-Arc­tic. In Sval­bard, it breeds in tun­dra are­as any­whe­re in the archi­pe­la­go, but is most com­mon on the west and north coasts of Spits­ber­gen. During the win­ter the open sea is their pre­fer­red habi­tat, usual­ly off west and sou­thwest Afri­ca.

Bio­lo­gy: Sin­gle pairs of the Arc­tic skua breed on rather flat tun­dra, often on a very shal­low rise in the ground for a good over­view. Arc­tic skuas come to the bree­ding are­as in ear­ly June, often retur­ning to the same nest. After egg-lay­ing in ear­ly July, both par­ents incu­ba­te the eggs (one or two) for 26 days. Soon after hatching, the young bird(s) lea­ve the nest tog­e­ther with the par­ents. The fami­ly stays tog­e­ther until the chick can fly after about five weeks. As the Latin name sug­gests, Arc­tic skuas do not like to look for food them­sel­ves, but pre­fer to cha­se other birds such as Kit­ti­wa­kes or Brünich’s Guil­lemots in flight until they drop their prey. Occa­sio­nal­ly, they may also ste­al eggs or chicks from other birds. In are­as whe­re rodents occur, the­se are ano­t­her wel­co­me food source for the Arc­tic skua.

Arctic skua

The Arc­tic skua ist the most com­mon skua on Spits­ber­gen

Mis­cel­la­ne­ous: The Arc­tic skua is by far the most abundant skua in Sval­bard, with an esti­ma­ted local popu­la­ti­on of about 1,000 bree­ding pairs, and it is a com­mon sight on flat tun­dra. Becau­se of its good camou­fla­ge, it can be dif­fi­cult to see. If you approach clo­se to a nest, one of the adults will pre­tend to be hurt to lure you away. If you see this, then move away quick­ly eit­her whe­re you came from, or you can also fol­low the bird as it will lead you away from the nest. If you approach even clo­ser, then the bird will attack. If this hap­pens, move quick­ly away from the nest. Do not stop to take any pho­to­graphs.

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last modification: 2017-12-14 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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