Long-tailed Skua

Stercorarius longicaudus

35-41cm (excluding tail streamers)

Appearance

Quite a slender bird, smallish with long wings and streaming feathers on its tail. Males and females are alike. Mostly grey-brown above with a pale upper breast, a dark cap, whitish neck, and lightly yellow-tinged cheeks. Dark wings except for only a couple of light feather shafts on the upperwing. Adults may be seen in pale-phase of this plumage. Juveniles are varied levels of greyish brown, and a few are quite dark. The tail is wedge-shaped, the nape and the belly are usually pale with a suggestion of a darker breast-band. Feathers on the back are edged in whitish-grey and there's barring on the underparts.

Habitat

Predominately a marine bird, but it occasionally visits inshore waters in the region during migration. Breeding grounds are in the north on Arctic tundra, and winter is spent at sea.

Character

This is a graceful flier who is known for its elegance. It pursues terns and other birds, and swims often during migration, searching for food on the surface of the ocean.

Food

Mammals, particularly lemmings and some voles are eaten on breeding grounds. Diet includes eggs of other birds, insects, worms and berries, and it eats small fish, offal and carrion when on the ocean.

Breeding

No proof that these birds breed in the region. Nests in loose colonies; female lays 2 eggs which both parents incubate for 24 days. Young learn to fly at approximately 25 days.

Population

This is a scant passage migrant. Migration is a fast process, and birds are occasionally observed off the west coasts of Ireland and the Outer Hebrides as birds return northwards at the end of May. Some pass along Britain's east coast, and a few birds may spend summer in the north of Scotland. With the right onshore winds during May, 1000 birds or even more may be reported off the Outer Hebrides.

Observation Tips

Presumably good numbers pass through the region's waters, but not close enough to shore for observation; these birds are a challenge to see. In autumn with enough hours spent in the right conditions, a sighting is possible. On the Cornish coast westerly winds are best, and in the north of Norfolk, northeasterly gusts are ideal. Northwesterly winds may reveal the migration passage off the Outer Hebrides.

Voice

Usually silent in the region.
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