ID challenges

South Polar Skua or hybrid?

Sometimes bird identification is really easy. Identifying a South Georgia Pipit (the only passerine species on South Georgia) doesn’t come with a lot of challenges. But sometimes it is a bit more complicated. Like with the larger skuas in the south. Whereas there is only 1 species in the northern hemisphere, the Great Skua, the south has 2: the Brown Skua (with several geographically distinct subspecies) and the South Polar Skua. On the Peninsula these two species occur together. And then the fun starts… Both species are quite variable, making it difficult to make a good identification. And on some places, like here on Deception Island, they do also interbreed, adding hybrids to the mix…

Normally one would say this is a pale morph South Polar Skua, but as it also has some stripes on the head (a character for Brown), it could also be a hybrid… Anyway, it was fun watching them.


  • I find it very difficult to identify birds- it takes me hours to sit down with the field guide and photographs before I can even make an educated guess.


    • It’s often a matter of experience. When you look a lot at birds, you know more species by heart and if you don’t know it, you most likely know what family it belongs to, so where to find it in the guide. And you learn what characters to look for, that also helps.
      As a kid I spent hour just browsing through the field guides, looking at different species.

      Like I said, when you do it a lot, it will get easier. However, there will always be a few difficult ones, like this one.


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