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Stercorarius pomarinusPCCA20070623-3985B.jpg
Pomarine jaeger
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Suborder: Lari
Family: Stercorariidae
Gray, 1871
Genus: Stercorarius
Brisson, 1760

See text.

The skuas /ˈskjuːə/ are a group of predatory seabirds with about seven species forming the family Stercorariidae and the genus Stercorarius. The three smaller skuas are called jaegers in American English.

The English word "skua" comes from the Faroese name skúgvur [ˈskɪkvʊər] for the great skua, with the island of Skúvoy renowned for its colony of that bird. The general Faroese term for skuas is kjógvi [ˈtʃɛkvə]. The word "jaeger" is derived from the German word Jäger, meaning "hunter".[1][2] The genus name Stercorarius is Latin and means "of dung"; the food disgorged by other birds when pursued by skuas was once thought to be excrement.[3]

Skuas nest on the ground in temperate and Arctic regions, and are long-distance migrants. They have even been sighted at the South Pole.[4]

Biology and habits[edit]

Two skuas and a giant petrel fighting over a dead Antarctic fur seal

Outside the breeding season, skuas take fish, offal, and carrion. Many are partial kleptoparasites, comprising up to 95% of the feeding methods of wintering birds, by chasing gulls, terns and other seabirds to steal their catches, regardless of the size of the species attacked (up to three times heavier than the attacking skua). The larger species, such as the great skua, also regularly kill and eat adult birds, such as puffins and gulls, and have been recorded as killing birds as large as a grey heron.[5] On the breeding grounds, the three, more slender northern breeding species commonly eat lemmings. Those species that breed in the southern oceans largely feed on fish that can be caught near their colonies. The eggs and chicks of other seabirds, especially penguins, are an important food source for most skua species during the nesting season.[6]

In the southern oceans and Antarctica region, some skua species (especially the south polar skua) will readily scavenge carcasses at breeding colonies of both penguins and pinnipeds. Skuas will sometimes take live penguin chicks. In these areas, the skuas will often to defer to the considerably larger giant petrels.

They are medium to large birds, typically with grey or brown plumage, often with white markings on the wings.[6] The skuas range in size from the long-tailed skua, Stercorarius longicauda, at 310 grams (0.68 pounds), to the brown skua, Stercorarius antarcticus, at 1.63 kg (3.6 lb). On average, a skua is about 56 cm (22 in) long, and 121 cm (48 in) across the wings. They have longish bills with a hooked tip, and webbed feet with sharp claws. They look like large dark gulls, but have a fleshy cere above the upper mandible.

The skuas are strong, acrobatic fliers. They are generally aggressive in disposition. Potential predators who go near their nest will be quickly dived at by the parent bird, which usually targets the head of the intruder – a practice known as 'dive bombing'.[7]


Skuas are related to gulls, waders, auks, and skimmers. In the three smaller species, all nesting exclusively in the Holarctic, breeding adults have the two central tail feathers obviously elongated, and at least some adults have white on the underparts and pale yellow on the neck. These characteristics are not shared by the larger species, all native to the Southern Hemisphere except for the great skua. Therefore, the skuas are often split into two genera, with only the smaller species retained in Stercorarius, and the large species placed in Catharacta. However, based on genetics, behavior, and feather lice, the overall relationship among the species is best expressed by placing all in a single genus.[8] The pomarine and great skuas' mitochondrial DNA (inherited from the mother) is in fact more closely related to each other than it is to either Arctic or long-tailed skuas, or to the Southern Hemisphere species.[9] Thus, hybridization must have played a considerable role in the evolution of the diversity of Northern Hemisphere skuas.


Skua in Antarctica
A skua nestling, with egg tooth present
Skua species
Common and binomial names Image Description Range
Long-tailed jaeger or long-tailed skua
(Stercorarius longicaudus)
Long-tailed Skua (js) 26.jpg
Parasitic jaeger or Arctic skua
(Stercorarius parasiticus)
Parasitic Jaeger.jpg
Pomarine jaeger or pomarine skua
(Stercorarius pomarinus)
Stercorarius pomarinusPCCA20070623-3985B.jpg
Chilean skua
(Stercorarius chilensis)
Catharacta chilensis (Chilean Skua).jpg
South polar skua
(Stercorarius maccormicki)
Skua antarctique - South Polar Skua.jpg
Brown skua
(Stercorarius antarcticus)
Stercorarius antarcticus -Godthul, South Georgia, British Overseas Territories, UK -landing-8.jpg
Great skua
(Stercorarius skua)
Phalacrocorax 06-06 collection.jpg Große Raubmöwe (Stercorarius skua) auf Handa Island.JPG


  1. ^ "Jaeger". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ "Skua". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 365. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  4. ^ Mark Sabbatini, "Non-human life form seen at Pole", The Antarctic Sun, 5 January 2003.
  5. ^ Scottish Ornithologists' Club Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ a b Harrison, Colin J.O. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph, ed. Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. p. 109. ISBN 1-85391-186-0.
  7. ^ "Scottish Wildlife Trust builds £50,000 loo on Handa". BBC News. 12 March 2012.
  8. ^ American Ornithologists' Union (2000). Forty-second supplement to the American Ornithologists' Union Check-list of North American Birds. The Auk 117(3):847–858.
  9. ^ Cohen, Baker, Belchschmidt, Dittmann, Furness, Gerwin, Helbig, de Korte, Marshall, Palma, Peter, Ramli, Siebold, Willcox, Wilson and Zink (1997). Enigmatic phylogeny of skuas. Proc. Biol. Sci. 264(1379):181–190.

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