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Great skua (Stercorarius skua)

The lar­ge and strong Skua is the lar­gest of the four spe­ci­es of skuas found on Spits­ber­gen. In flight she can look like big, dark seagull.

Great skua

Gre­at skua under attack by an arc­tic tern. Lief­defjord.

Descrip­ti­on: The Gre­at skua is the lar­gest skua (50-58 cm, 1.2-1.8 kg in weight) and has a rather uni­form, brown camou­fla­ge plu­mage. The only white patches are on the under­si­de of the wings and thus visi­ble only in flight. With its broad wings and the strong beak, which has a slight­ly cur­ved point, it resem­bles a bird of prey.

Great skua

Gre­at skua, Lief­defjord.

Dis­tri­bu­ti­on / Migra­ti­ons: The Gre­at skua has a pri­ma­ri­ly sub-arc­tic dis­tri­bu­ti­on and breeds in the eas­tern north Atlan­tic in Ice­land, the Færøe Islands, Shet­land Islands and Nor­way. The first bree­ding pair in Sval­bard was recor­ded in 1970 on Bjørnøya and in 1976 on Spits­ber­gen but sin­ce then, the spe­ci­es has occu­p­ied most parts of the archi­pe­la­go with the excep­ti­on of the high-arc­tic nor­the­ast. The lar­gest popu­la­ti­on is still on Bjørnøya, with several hund­red bree­ding pairs. Gre­at skuas spend the win­ter on open oce­an, off the coast of Sene­gal, west Afri­ca.

Great skua

Field bio­lo­gist with gre­at skua on Bjørnøya (Bear Island).

Bio­lo­gy: Gre­at skuas like fish, espe­cial­ly if others have caught it. As with other skuas, they cha­se other sea­b­irds until they drop their prey. They also take eggs and chicks from other birds when the oppor­tu­ni­ty ari­ses.

Gre­at skuas lay two eggs into a shal­low nest on flat tun­dra. Both par­ents sit for a good four weeks. The fami­ly will then stay near the nest for ano­t­her six to seven weeks, until the chicks can fly.

Mis­cel­la­ne­ous: Gre­at skuas are strong birds and defend their nest and off­spring aggres­si­ve­ly. Lea­ve quick­ly if you hap­pen to beco­me the tar­get of a dive­bom­bing skua.

Great skua and polar bear

Gre­at skua attacking a polar bear.

Gene­ti­cal­ly, they are very simi­lar to the Arc­tic skua. Gre­at skuas are pri­ma­ri­ly Sou­thern Oce­an birds, whe­re five out of six spe­ci­es breed (South Polar skua, Brown skua etc.).

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last modification: 2019-03-08 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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