Arctic Species: Pomarine Skua

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.

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No less as four Pomarine Skuas chase one Kittiwake.

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.

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Dark morph Pomarine Skua

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.

 

 

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.

4 comments

  • Oh my goodness, what a huge wingspan. What a bird. Really cool tail, too. I think if I had seen 400 of these exquisite birds at once I would’ve fainted. Thanks for sharing this bird, Arjen. Excellent photos, espec. the first one, with that heavenly arctic background.

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    • Ah, they’re not as big as a Great Skua or a Glaucous Gull. The sad thing about that sighting of 400 Poms is that none of our guests were birdwatchers, so nobody, except the expedition leader and me, had any clue on how special this was…

      Liked by 1 person

  • This skua I remember, probably since it is seen often in the pack ice and the spoon form of tail feathers, looks pretty neat compared to the other skuas. Thank you Arjen for the great this one too

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    • Yes, this is definitely one that you might have seen in the pack ice, and the tail-feathers are a good give-away. They are nice birds indeed, although I think most of the Kittiwakes have a different opinion on that matter 😉

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