Great Skua

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Image:Great skua.JPG

Common Name: Great Skua
Scientific Name: Stercorarius skua

Size: 20-23 inches (50-58 cm); 125-140 cm wingspan

Habitat: Northern Hemisphere; breeds in Iceland, Norway, the Faroe Islands and the Scottish islands, with a few on mainland Scotland. It is a migrant, wintering at sea in the Atlantic Ocean and regularly reaching North American waters and a vagrant to Mediterranean countries.

Status: Least Concern. Global Population: 48,000 mature individuals. The population levels appear stable.

Diet: Fish, which it often obtains by robbing gulls, terns and even Northern Gannets of their catches. It will also directly attack and kill other seabirds, up to the size of Great Black-backed Gulls. A common technique is to fly up to a gannet in mid-air and grab it by the wing, so that it stalls and falls into the sea, where the Great Skua then physically attacks it until it surrenders its catch.

Breeding: Sexes are alike. The adult is streaked dark greyish brown, with a blackish cap, while the juvenile is a warmer brown and unstreaked below. Its tail is short and blunt.

Breeding begins in May, and it is loosely colonial but highly territorial. It breeds on coastal moorland and rocky islands that have flat ground with some vegetation cover. They usually avoid human contact. Two spotted olive-brown eggs are laid in grass-lined nests. Most birds breed within 1 km of their birth place.

Cool Facts: Genetic studies have found surprising similarities between the Great Skua and the Pomarine Skua, despite their dissimilar appearance. Many ornithologists now believe either that the Great Skua originated as a hybrid between the Pomarine Skua and one of the southern-hemisphere species presumably as a result of vagrancy or migration across the equator by the southern species, or that the Pomarine Skua evolved from hybridization of the Great Skua and one of the small Arctic species.

Like other skuas, it will fly at the head of a human or other intruder approaching its nest. Although it cannot inflict serious damage, such an experience with a bird of this size is frightening.

In Britain, it is sometimes known by the name Bonxie, a Shetland name of unknown origin.

A group of skuas are collectively known as a "shishkab" of skuas.


Found in Songbird ReMix Seabirds Volume 2

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