Birds of prey

Great Skua
Great Skua

On Spitsbergen there are no birds of prey. This is easy to explain, or not… Easy as the most important food source for most high Arctic birds of prey is lemming and there are no lemming on Spitsbergen. With their staple food missing it’s not surprising that there are no Gyr- or Peregrine Falcons, Rough-legged Buzzards, White-tailed Eagles or Snowy Owl. However, in summer there should be enough food for them at the various bird cliffs. It should be easy for them to capture a few birds or chicks now and then to make a living and raise their chicks. They should migrate in winter, but that should not be a problem as most of these birds are migratory in part of their breeding grounds anyway. So actually it’s most likely that these birds have never reached Spitsbergen in large enough numbers to start a population… The disadvantage of a small island far away from the mainland.

But of course this niche is taken by other birds. Glaucous Gulls and mainly Great Skuas have partly taken over the role of the avian top predator. However, like most top predators, Great Skuas are not very common, hence I never managed to take a good picture of one. Until this year, when we had one flying around the ship for a while and I managed to grab a few flight shots, like this one.

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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