Arctic Skua Life Cycle: From Nest Building to Flight

Arctic Skua Life Cycle: From Nest Building to Flight

The arctic skua is a fairly large seabird about the same size as a common gull. However, it can be difficult to differentiate between the arctic skua and its close relatives the long-tailed skua and the pomarine skua.

In this article we’re going to look at the arctic skua and concentrate on its lifespan, nest building, and chick rearing abilities as well as other interesting facts. Keep reading to find out more.

How Long Does An Arctic Skua Live

From the study of ring records on arctic skuas, they can live up to 25 years with some specimens reaching as old as 30! However, the average age is around 12 years.

They spend most of their lives out at sea only coming ashore to breed in the Arctic summer. Once the young birds leave the nest, they might not return to land for 2 years. Which is when they reach the age to breed themselves.

These impressive birds travel huge distances and migrate to the southern hemisphere every year to over winter.

What Is An Arctic Skua’s Habitat

The arctic skua spends most of its life out at sea only coming to land to breed. The birds create a close colony when breeding and they nest on heathland and moorlands of the islands in the far north of Scotland, the Shetland and Orkney Islands and the arctic circle.

However, they can often be seen around northern coasts during their spring and autumn migration.

After breeding they travel to sub-Saharan Africa and the South American coasts.

How Long Does It Take For An Arctic Skua To Build A Nest

Male Arctic Skua

Arctic skuas nest in pairs and the incubation duties are shared between both parents. The nest is a shallow depression on the ground.

Typically situated on a mound with a clear view of the sea. The depression is lined with plant material. A depression is scraped out using their feet which, although there is no recorded data, doesn’t take very long at all to create.

How Many Chicks Does An Arctic Skua Have

Arctic skuas typically lay 2 eggs which are roughly 58 x 40 mm in size and weigh approximately 48 grams. They only have one brood each year starting from their second year as this is when they are sexually mature and able to reproduce.

Typically one in every two chicks dies in the first year often falling prey to foxes or Arctic foxes.

Are Arctic Skuas Aggressive?

Arctic skuas can be very aggressive especially towards any intruders who get too close to their breeding grounds or individual nests. Both parents will fiercely defend their nest from intruders.

They have a varied diet consisting of;

  • Fish
  • Small Birds
  • Eggs
  • Small Mammals

They can often be seen aggressively chasing other birds in an intimidating way to steal the food that the other bird has captured. They can also be aggressive towards smaller birds who they see as a source of food.

Arctic skuas will also steal eggs from other nesting birds to feed themselves and their chicks. The arctic skua has the nickname of the parasitic jaeger. Which basically means it is a parasitic hunter. The parasitic part is because it steals food from other birds and jaeger is an old word meaning hunter.

How Fast Can An Arctic Skua Fly

In order to catch food and often to steal food from other birds, the arctic skua can reach speeds of up to 50 kilometres per hour. This is the equivalent of around 14 metres per second

They can often be seen soaring through the skies out to sea chasing other birds like puffins and kittiwakes in order to intimidate them into dropping their food. The skua then swoops in and steals the food for itself or to feed its young chicks.

They often chase after birds far larger than themselves to steal food and show off their daring skills in the air. Watching arctic skuas chase other birds is an entertaining almost choreographed dance routine.

SEE ALSO: Blue Tit vs Great Tit: Key Differences Explained

Frequently Asked Questions

How fast is an arctic skua?

Arctic skuas can reach speeds of up to 50 kph and use their speed and aerial skills to chase and intimidate other birds, often birds much larger than themselves in order to steal their food.

Do arctic skuas live in the UK?

Many arctic skuas breed in the far north of Scotland and on northern Scottish islands. However they migrate to sub-Saharan Africa and the South American coasts to over winter.

What is the lifespan of an arctic skua?

The typical lifespan of an arctic skua is around 12 years. However, there has been isolated ring evidence of arctic skuas living to the age of almost 26 years.

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