Arctic skua

Arctic Skua

©Bob Coyle

Arctic skua

Scientific name: Stercorarius parasiticus
A fierce pirate of the sea, the Arctic skua is renowned for stealing fish from other seabirds and dive-bombing anyone that comes near its nests. It breeds in the far north of Scotland and on the Scottish Isles.

Species information


Length: 44cm
Wingspan: 1.2m
Weight: 450g
Average lifespan: 12 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

When to see

April to September


Arctic skuas are large seabirds, about the same size as common gulls. They are pirates of the sea: chasing other seabirds, such as puffins and terns, and stealing the fish they have caught. They can often be seen flying low and fast over the waves in pursuit of prey, and only come to land to breed. They are known to be very aggressive at their breeding grounds - dive-bombing anyone who gets close to their nests.

How to identify

Adult Arctic skuas have two colour phases: a light phase, with a white belly and dark back and cap; and a dark phase, which is uniformly dusky brown. Arctic skuas have two pointed central tail feathers that stick out beyond their main tail, and display broad, white flashes on the undersides of their wings.


Nests on the moorlands of Scottish islands and in the far north of Scotland, but can be seen around the coast during spring and autumn migration.

Did you know?

The Arctic skua is also known as the 'Parasitic Jaeger': parasitic because of its habit of stealing food from other birds, termed kleptoparasitism'; and jaeger - derived from the German word for hunter - because of its predatory nature.