Arctic species: Great Skua

Another one of the big bad guys, just like the Glaucous Gull: the Great Skua. As the name indicates, it is the largest of the skuas and has a nearly all dark brown plumage. Only in flight, he shows his white wing patches. In the southern hemisphere, there are several species like this (like the South Polar Skua and the Brown Skua), but in the high Arctic, there isn’t really anything similar. It is far less common as the Arctic Skua, but most small islands in fjords have a breeding pair.

Great Skua in flight on Fair Isle

Great Skua – Stercorarius skua
Length 50-58 cm, wingspan 125-140 cm
Large and bulky all dark brown skua

Just like the Glaucous Gull and the other skuas, the Great Skua has taken the place of the birds of prey on Spitsbergen. They feed on bird eggs or small birds, but sometimes even manage to kill something as big as a near-adult Barnacle Goose. When you get too close to their nest, they will definitely let you know and you better make sure you backtrack quickly, there are stories known of people being knocked unconscious by an attacking Great Skua.

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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