Great Skua: Large, heavy-bodied seabird, prominent white patch in primary feathers. Body color ranges from a light bleached to dark brown, all have a cinammon wash that makes the bird look red-tinged. Strong direct flight with constant shallow wingbeats. Hugs wave contours or flies up to 150 feet.
Range and Habitat
Great Skua: Breeds in Iceland, Norway, the Faroe Islands and the Scottish islands, with a few on mainland Scotland. It breeds on coastal moorland and rocky islands. It is a migrant, wintering at sea in the Atlantic Ocean and regularly reaching North American waters. Vagrant to Mediterranean countries.
Skuas and Jaegers (Stercorariidae)
The sandpipers, plovers, buttonquail, auks, and skuas, and oystercatchers are some of the nineteen families in the taxonomic order CHARADRIIFORMES (pronounced kah-RAH-dree-ih-FOR-meez).
The Stercorariidae (pronounced stehr-koh-rah-REYE-ih-dee), or skuas and jaegers, encompasses seven species of skuas and jaegers in one genus that can be found in all of the world’s oceans.
In North America, five species of skuas and jaegers in one genus have been identified. Among these are included the graceful Long-tailed Jaeger and the hefty Great Skua.
Members of this family are known for their predatory and piratical behavior. Like other skuas and jaegers, the Parasitic Jaeger is known for expertly chasing and harassing gulls and terns until they drop their food.
The skuas and jaegers look like a cross between a gull and a falcon. They are large birds with long, pointed wings (broader in skuas), have thick necks with fairly large heads, webbed feet, and medium-length bills with a hook on the end. They also have distinctive tails with projecting central tail feathers.
Skuas are mostly brown, streaked birds, some species with gray or rusty highlights in their plumage. Juvenile jaegers have plumages similar to those of skuas, while adults are creamy or white on the underparts, the Parasitic and Pomarine Jaegers sporting black breast bands. On the upperparts, adult jaegers are dark brown with black caps. Most plumages of jaegers and skuas also show prominent white patches in the wings at the bases of the primaries.
Jaegers and Skuas are bird of the Arctic, Antarctic, and the open ocean. They breed on the tundra and rocky islands of the far north, and spend the rest of the year in pelagic waters off of both North American coasts, rarely occurring near land.
All members of this family are highly migratory.
Skuas and jaegers are solitary predators of the high seas except when they form pairs during the breeding season and hunt for small mammals, birds (especially nestlings), and insects on the tundra. Outside of the breeding season, they occur on the open ocean where they pursue gulls, terns, and other seabirds to steal fish these smaller birds have caught. They also prey upon other birds, the skuas even attacking and killing gulls.
Skuas and jaegers are not threatened in North America and appear to have healthy populations throughout their range.
Jaegers get their name from the Germanic word for “hunter”; an appropriate name for these aggressive, predatory birds. In Great Britain, though, the word “jaeger” is not used with all members of this family being called skuas.