Great Skua

Catharacta skua

53-58cm

Appearance

The biggest skua, the Great Skua has slightly rounded wings, a hook-tipped bill, large head, and a proportionately shorter tail in comparison to other skuas (and has no streamers). Plumage is chocolate-brown with straw-coloured streaking and spots, and golden-brown feathers may be seen on the nape from close proximity. The summer adult may be slightly more pale. Juvenile birds are dark brown with rufous-brown neck and underparts. Birds show white wing patches when flying.

Habitat

Nests predominately in Sheltand and Orkney in the region; these locations offer its preferred rocky habitats. May also breed in moorland close to the coast.

Character

Has a large belly in flight and powerful downwards motion of the wings. Chases other birds with great agility and can be very fierce and aggressive when hunting and territorial.

Food

Steals fish from other birds, and finds food on the ocean's surface. Diet is mostly sand eels, haddock and whiting, and it also eats carrion and offal from boats. Hunts and kills other bird species.

Breeding

Breeds in a colony and defends its territory. Female lays 2 eggs and she does most of the incubating, which takes about 26-32 days. Young depart the nest but stay nearby; female guards them while male gets food and regurgitates for family. After approximately 44 days young birds can fly and they don't usually breed until they're more than 7 years old.

Population

Known as a summer visitor and a passage migrant bird. Migration begins in July and birds are in highest numbers on the coasts of Britain and Ireland during September and October. More than 9600 pairs breed in the region each year.

Observation Tips

During breeding season, the Scottish islands are the best place for observation, particularly the Shetland island of Unst. Caution should be taken because these birds are extremely territorial, and may be aggressive towards intruders. Migrant birds may be viewed at typical sea-watching sites during spring and autumn, and are most likely to be seen when there are onshore winds.

Voice

Mostly silent when not on breeding grounds, though it does have a 'gek-gek' call it uses when hunting or protecting its territory.
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