By Sarah Bedolfe
The “Avian Pirate” of the arctic

Featuring one amazing marine animal per week.


The Arctic skua is a seabird that breeds along the coast and on the tundra in the far north of Eurasia and North America. Despite its name, it isn’t strictly an Arctic critter. Some populations nest below the Arctic circle, and they all migrate to the south Atlantic Ocean to spend winter at sea. In fact, they spend most of their lives at sea, only coming ashore once each year to breed.

Photo courtesy Bill Lindblom via Flickr Creative Commons.

Skua attacking a kittiwake in Svalbard, Norway, where To The Arctic was filmed. Photo Courtesy Michael Haferkamp via Wikimedia Commons.

There is more to learn from the Arctic skua’s other names, though. Its scientific name is Stercorarius parasiticus and it’s also commonly known as a parasitic jaeger. That’s because the Arctic skua is a kleptoparasite: it steals food or prey from other birds. They can be so aggressive, some even call them “avian pirates!”

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Not all Arctic skuas are alike. Some will hunt for themselves as well, or only steal while on the coast, but others acquire almost all of their food, year round, by stealing. This aggression also serves the birds well when a predator approaches the nest as they fearlessly protect their eggs.

Arctic Skua in a fight with terns. Photo courtesy Hilary Chambers via Flickr Creative Commons.



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