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Sea Birds - Skua

(Catharacta skua)

Catharacta skua breeds on most southern Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. The South Polar Skua has the distinction of being the world's most southerly bird: At least two have turned up at the South Pole.

The Brown Skua (Catharacta antarctica) breeds in the southern oceans almost circumpolarly in places like South Georgia, the Falklands, some areas of Antarctica, some areas of New Zealand and other islands. The taxonomy of these birds is still somewhat controversial. In addition, hybridization is quite common according to some researchers. For the purpose of this web site I'll call this Brown Skua, but some might refer it to as Antarctic Skua.

Female Skua is slightly larger. Very heavily built, with disproportionately small head. Plumage varies from deep chocolate-brown to fairly light brown, although under parts generally lighter than upper parts. May also be heavily streaked or mottled light buff to straw-colored. When resting plumage shows no white, but in flight or when displaying shows white flash at base of wing primaries. Bill heavily built, dark horn color. Feet and legs black but may be marked with white patches on tarsus. Flies fast with fairly rapid powerful wing beats and can be extremely agile, particularly in pursuit of prey such as thin-billed Prions. Skuas are widespread and locally common, although a ready supply of prey, such as prions and eggs and young of penguins and cormorants, and a suitable nesting habitat. A migratory species, returns to breeding sites in the last week of October. During the third week in November territories are established and egg-laying begins in last days of November to first week of December. Usually two eggs are incubated for 29-30 days. Young birds fully feathered by early February and are capable of flight within 35-40 days of hatching.

Sea Birds - Great Skua

(Stercorarius skua)

The Great Skua breeds near the sea in northern Scotland, Iceland, Faeroes and in arctic and sub-arctic areas of northern Europe. Outside the breeding season it spends almost all its time at sea and ranges from the north Atlantic to the coast of Brazil.

They breed on rocky islands and on open coastal moorland where the nest is a mere scrape in the ground. During the breeding season, the adults defend the nest furiously and will fly at anyone rash enough to approach too closely.

They feed mainly on fish, which are either caught on the surface or scavenged from fishing boats, etc. More famously, they steal fish from other sea birds and, on St Kilda, at least, seem to concentrate on stealing from gannets. It is a large, heavy bird about the size of a Herring Gull with a thickset head and neck. In flight it looks dark apart from the white patches on its primaries visible from above and below.