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Arctic Skua

Stercorarius parasiticus

The Arctic Skua, also known as the Parasitic Jaeger, is a medium-sized seabird well known for its aggressive nature.

Arctic Skua

Arctic Skua

Arctic Skua

Close up of an Arctic Skua spreading its wings

Arctic Skua

Close up of an Arctic Skua perched in vegetation

Arctic Skua

Arctic Skua in flight

Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Stercorarius parasiticus

Other names:

Parasitic Jaeger



Conservation status:




41cm to 46cm


110cm to 125cm


330g to 570g

What does an Arctic Skua look like?

Arctic Skuas can be difficult to identify, particularly when they are not in their characteristic breeding plumage.

Adults have two different morphs, which occur during the winter and summer. In winter, they have brown upperparts, a black cap, white collar, and occasionally display a brown breast band. This plumage is highly variable and a gloomy colour.

The dark plumage is similar overall but areas on the underparts and head which were white, become a brown colour. The beak is almost black, and the legs and feet are a dark bluish-grey or black.

The plumage is identical in the adult male and females. Juvenile Arctic Skuas vary from very pale to very dark, but most are warmly coloured with rusty shading to the flight feather fringes.

A pair of Parasitic Jaegers

A pair of Parasitic Jaegers

Did you know?

Arctic Skuas fly at speeds of up to 25 mph (40 km/h)

What does an Arctic Skua sound like?

Arctic Skuas often vocalise with each other. They also make calls whilst under attack and during aerial pursuits. The long call which is the most commonly heard is a “nyeeAh- nyeeAh- nyeeAh- nyeeAh” sound.

Parasitic Jaegers / Arctic Skua Call

Stanislas Wroza, XC487315. Accessible at

What does an Arctic Skua eat?

Arctic Skuas feed mainly on fish, other birds, eggs and rodents, although this can vary across breeding populations.

They are sometimes referred to as 'Avian Pirates' due to their habit of stealing food from other seabirds, particularly from wintering birds and birds in the northern Atlantic which provide their primary food source.

Parasitic Jaeger in flight (Arctic Skua)

Parasitic Jaeger in flight (Arctic Skua)

Where can I see Arctic Skuas?

Arctic Skuas can be seen on breeding grounds in the Shetland and Orkney Islands during the summer and sometimes in northern and western coastal moorlands in Scotland. In spring and autumn they are passage migrants and can be seen all around the UK coast - particularly where there are large numbers of feeding terns.

Signs and Spotting tips

Male and female adults are identical with the colour and marking of their plumage, but females are generally 15%-20% larger than males, although this is generally only apparent when birds are next to one another.

Arctic Skua coming in to land

Arctic Skua coming in to land

How does an Arctic Skua Breed?

Arctic Skuas will make their nests and breed on grassland, tundra or moorland, usually in a location near a colony of seabirds from where they can steal food or at a place with low nesting densities where it's easier for them to obtain food from what's on offer.

The nest is usually placed on rocky or sandy terrain near water. The female will lay a clutch of 1-3 eggs, and both males and females will take turns during the incubation period, which lasts around a month.

Once hatched, the young birds will remain with their parents between two to three weeks after fledging. Parents will often leave their young unguarded whilst they go off and hunt for food together.

Nest of an Arctic Skua (Parasitic Jaeger)

Nest of an Arctic Skua (Parasitic Jaeger)

How long do Arctic Skuas live for?

The average lifespan for an Arctic Skua is around 13 years, but they can live for decades. The oldest recorded age was 34 years old.

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Other birds in the Skuas family

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