Arctic Species: Long-tailed Skua

The last one of the skua’s of the Arctic: the Long-tailed Skua. Looking at the bird, the name makes perfect sense as their prolonged tail-feathers are about half the size of their body. They are the smallest of skuas and resemble a falcon in flight. They are very athletic birds in flight and have a powerful wingbeat.

A Long-tailed Skua on the tundra, Blomstrandhalfoya, Spitsbergen.

Long-tailed Skua – Stercorarius longicaudus
Length: 35-41 cm (excl. tail-streamers 12-24cm), wingspan 105-112 cm
Smallest and most slender of the skuas with very long tail-streamers

Just like the Pomarine Skua, Long-tails usually feed on lemming and as they are absent from Spitsbergen, there aren’t too many Long-tailed Skuas on the islands either. However, a few pairs don’t seem to notice and keep on trying each year. The most famous is the pair (or sometimes pairs) on Blomstrandhalføya in Kongsfjord. These birds have been breeding here for many years and they feed the same way as the Arctic and Pomarine Skuas do, by kleptoparasitism. I have also seen Long-tailed Skuas opposite of Pyramiden in the inner parts of Isfjord and I wouldn’t be surprised if there would be a breeding pair there as well.

Long-tailed Skua on the beach

In autumn the birds leave the area and fly south along the West African coastline and winter off the shores of southwest Africa. Just like the other species of skua, they can defend their nest fiercely, so if you are being attacked, you know you’re too close to their nest and it’s time to leave.

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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