The first bird in this series that (most likely) doesn’t breed on the archipelago, but still needs mentioning: the Pomarine Skua, or Pomarine Jaeger. They typically feed on lemming or other small rodents on the tundra, which are absent on Spitsbergen. Therefore they don’t breed on the islands. However, when you see a skua in the pack ice, fair chance it’s a Pomarine. Non-breeding birds from Siberia are frequent visitors in the eastern parts of Spitsbergen, especially in the pack ice. Here they still can’t hunt lemming, but they will chase other birds, especially Kittiwakes, to get their prey. We often see them follow ships for a while.
Pomarine Skua – Stercorarius pomarinus
Length: 42-50 cm, wingspan: 115-125 cm
Slightly larger as Arctic Skuas, with spoon-shaped prolonged tail-feathers
Pomarine Skuas look fairly similar to Arctic Skuas, but are slightly larger and bulkier and have longer, spoon-shaped prolonged tail-feathers. The far majority of the birds seen on Spitsbergen are of the pale colour morph (as in the picture on top of this article), but occasionally a dark morph shows up. These birds are uniformly dark brown but still have the same spoon-shaped tail-feathers.
Usually, you will only see a handful of birds in the pack ice, but sometimes you get lucky and see many more. During my first trip as a guide, I saw a group of at least 400 birds on one of the Tussenøyane in the south-east, the largest group of Pomarine Skuas ever recorded on the islands.