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Family: Stercorariidae Gray, 1871 = Skuas, Skuas

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Skuas are a family of charadriiformes. Length from 45 (skuas), up to 60 cm (skuas). Similar to real gulls, but differ from them in a darker color of plumage, weak legs, a stronger beak and a pointed tail.

In some species of skuas, some individuals are colored in light colors, and some in dark. Differently colored individuals can form one nesting pair.

Great Skuas are bipolar, others in the Arctic and Subarctic. They swim well, nest on the coasts in the highest latitudes of both hemispheres, but in post-nesting times they can be found in the seas up to the equator and in the depths of the continents.

In the arctic tundra, they feed largely on lemmings. Nests are often built near seabird colonies where their eggs and chicks are stolen. But even more characteristic of them is kleptoparasitism - the taking of prey in the air from other seabirds that they actively attack (in the Russian north, skuas are called soldiers).

Bird description

The body length reaches 80 cm, the wingspan is about 130 cm. The weight of the bird does not exceed a kilogram.

All skuas are distinguished by a short, large beak, covered in skin. The tip is flattened, and the base is rounded. At the top, the beak is bent down like a hook, and there is a small depression in the bottom. The claws of the bird are sharp and curved. The wings are long, pointed. The tail is rounded.

The plumage on the back of the skua is dark brown; lighter feathers are located on the neck, head and in the abdomen. The neck and chest are completely white, the head is black with yellow spots. This is the color of adults, young birds usually look more modest.

Features of skuas nutrition

The main prey of skuas on land are lemmings, as well as gray and forest voles, downy chicks and sandpiper masonry, eggs of the loon, duck, gull, and partridge. At sea, these birds can catch fish and invertebrates, which are found at the surface of the water. Skuas in the tropics often hunt flying fish, which itself jumps out of the water. In spring and autumn, skuas add insects to their diet, plant foods - berries (crowberries, lingonberries, blueberries), as well as garbage and carrion, as these birds are absolutely picky in food.

Skuas are often called sea pirates, as they take food from other birds: milkworms, puffins, terns, scrubbers, and eels, attacking these birds in groups of two to five individuals.

Recently, birds have often sought food near humans, for example, near fisheries or animal farms.

Bird spread

Most species of skuas are common in the Arctic, in the polar regions near salt bodies of water. Birds live on the Eurasian and North American continents. Migration depends on the specific habitats of each colony. For the winter, skuas migrate mainly to the southern seas and oceans.

Skuas live in pairs or singly. Colonies form only for the period of nesting, for which rocky islands are chosen.

Skua skuas (Stercorarius longicaudus)

This species is the smallest representative in the family. The length of his body is from 40 to 55 cm, weight 220-350 g.

The top of the head and neck at the back are painted black with shine. Chest and neck white, with a slight yellowish tinge. The back and wings are black-green above. The bird is distinguished by a long beautiful tail.

The species is common in the Arctic zones of Eurasia and in North America. Winter birds spend in the south of the Atlantic Ocean and in the Pacific Ocean. Skuas are a rather peaceful bird that feeds mainly on rodents and insects.

Skua Skuas (Stercorarius parasiticus)

The body length of the bird is 44-55 cm, wingspan up to 125 cm.

In the wedding attire, the color of the head from above is dark, black or gray-brown, the back, lower back, tummy, and the under tail of a grayish-brown color. The head on the sides, the back of the neck, the neck and chest are white, the plumage is golden yellow on the sides of the back of the neck. Beak is black, green or gray at the base, legs are black. Winter outfit is lighter than wedding. Dark brown spots appear on the sides and neck of the bird, and dark and light transverse stripes adorn the lower back and belly. The voice is very diverse.

Chicks are painted in grayish-brown, yellowish-brown or yellowish-gray color, with a dark back and a nape. The bill is pinkish-gray-blue, the tip is black, the legs are gray-blue.

The species lives in the tundra zone of Eurasia and North America. Goes to the ocean waters of the North Atlantic, South America, South Australia, Africa and Asia for wintering.

Skuas (Stercorarius pomarinus)

A large bird with a body length of 65 to 78 cm, a wingspan of 113-127 cm, and a body weight of 520-920 g. It differs from related species in its pink beak with a dark top and a clump of vertically wrapped long tail feathers. In addition, in flight, the bird has a noticeable white spot on the wings.

The plumage on the back is dark brown. The light subspecies has bright areas on the head, neck and tummy. On the head there is a cap of black feathers, the throat and breast are white, occasionally with streaks. The neck and head are straw yellow on the sides. On the breast there is a mottled black and white strip. The tummy is either pure white or decorated with dark streaks. Black ghost. The dark subspecies is not so contrasting. His tummy is brown.

In young birds, the plumage is dimmer, as if blurred.

Medium skuas nest on the North Island of Novaya Zemlya, Franz Josef Land, Taimyr, Yamal, and the Novosibirsk Islands. In the western hemisphere, lives on the northern coast of Alaska, the islands of the Canadian archipelago, and in the west of Greenland.

South Polar Skuas (Catharacta maccormicki)

Large-bodied bird. Body length from 50 to 55 cm, wingspan up to 140 cm, weight from 0.9 to 1.6 kg. The wings are long, pointed. The tail is short, wedge-stepped. Paws with membranes and bent claws.

There are three subspecies of South Polar skuas: light, dark and transitional. All birds have a dark brown rainbow, beak and legs are black.

In light birds, the color of plumage is contrasting, the head is from pinkish-brown to ocher-brownish-whitish. The neck, sides and belly are pinkish-brown. The back is dark brown with narrow longitudinal streaks.

Dark birds are feathered in the same color, their head and tummy are dark brown, the back and wings are black-brown. Sashek light.

The intermediate subspecies are monophonic, practically without speckles.

The species is found along the coast of Antarctica, as well as on the South Shetland and South Orkney Islands. Adult individuals winter in the Southern Ocean, and young birds migrate to the Northern Hemisphere.

Antarctic skuas (brown, brown) - (Catharacta antarctica)

The color of the plumage of the bird is dark brown with small bright spots. Feathers near the eyes and on the tail from dark brown to black. A white triangular spot is visible on the inside of the wings in flight. The beak is dark gray, sharp, hooked in shape.

The species lives in the south of Argentina, on the islands of Tierra del Fuego, New Zealand, on the Falkland Islands.

Great Skuas (Catharacta skua)

Body length from 50 to 58 cm, wingspan 125-140 cm. Nests are in Iceland, Norway, the islands of Scotland and the Faroe Islands.

Plumage of gray color with red stripes and a black cap on the head. The tail is black-brown in color with two long feathers in the middle. Beak and legs are black.

Skuas breeding

Skua is a monogamous bird. It flies to its nesting areas when the first thawed spots appear on the snow cover in the second half of May - early June.

It forms pairs either during the flight or in the first week after arrival. At the same time, some birds continue the nomadic way of life and do not create pairs.

Each pair of skuas nests separately. If a bird of its own or other species flies into its territory, the appearance of land predators, for example, arctic foxes, behaves very aggressively, dives at the intruder and screams loudly, tries to strike. He is afraid of man and tries to fly away, shouting quietly.

Skuas nests on a dry and level place, often on bumps or ridges in the middle of swamps. This is a depression in grassy soil, 15-17 cm in diameter 3-5 cm in depth. Birds either do not line it at all, or lay some dry leaves of sedge, pieces of moss or lichen, or other plant material.

In clutch usually 1 or 2, occasionally 3 eggs. They are dark olive in color with brownish-violet and dark brown spots of different sizes. Both female and male incubate eggs, from 25 to 28 days, starting from the moment the first egg appears.

Newborn chicks are covered in a plain brown fluff that is darker on the back. At the age of 30-36 days, young birds begin to fly, but for a couple of weeks they remain next to the parents who feed them, then the birds begin an independent life.

Interesting facts about the bird

  • Skuas feel great both on land and at sea. During swimming, the body of the bird is horizontal to the surface of the water.
  • Sometimes they attack sheep, penguins and fur seals.
  • All skuas have different and very interesting voices, but most of the time birds prefer to be silent, and sing only during the mating season during the flight.
  • When a skua notices danger, it notifies its relatives with short and low sounds, but in case of its own attack on other birds, on the contrary, it makes loud vibrating sounds. The chicks give a special voice that sounds like a rattling whistle.
  • On the island of Fula (Scotland), a wildlife sanctuary is organized, where the skuas are a protected species.

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