Also known as Brown Skua

Latin name: Catharacta antarctica
Antarctic Skua - Photo: Crescent Head School

Antarctic Skua – Photo: Crescent Head School

Population: 13,000 to 14,000 breeding pairs.

Conservation Status: Least Concern (IUCN, 2008)

Where found: Antarctic Skuas are circumpolar, breeding mainly in the sub-Antarctic but also along the peninsula to 65°S.

Wingspan: 120-160 cm

Length: 63 cm

Weight: 980 g to 1.9 kg

Mating/Breeding: Antarctic Skuas don’t nest, they just lay their eggs on some flat ground and defend it fiercely against intruders. Antarctic Skuas return to the breeding territory in late October and November, where they lay 2 eggs from late November to early January. Incubation takes 30 days. The chicks are brooded by both parents and fledge from late March even into April.

Hunting Habits: The Antarctic Skua displays piratical behaviour, pursuing shags and terns in flight, grabbing wings or tails and forcing them to disgorge their catch. The Antarctic Skua also takes carrion and follows ships for galley waste and fish offal. Sometimes it will forage, in cooperation with another skua, for penguin eggs, chicks and carrion. Eggs may be carried off, small chicks swallowed whole on the spot, large ones dragged away.

Feed on: Marine life, penguin eggs and chicks, carrion.

Threats: Not globally threatened.

Colour/Looks: The Antarctic Skua has a brown head, almost always with dark cap and yellow streaks on the nape, lacking the ‘collar’ effect of the South Polar Skua. The upperparts are dark brown and flecked buff/pale yellow/rufous. Underparts are similar but greyer. The upperwing is blackish-brown with a marked white patch at the base of the primaries; the underwing is dark brown with an even more marked white patch. The tail is dark brown, the bill, legs and feet blackish-grey.

Interesting Trivia:

  • Herbert Ponting, photographer on Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition of 1910-12, called skuas “the Buccaneers of the South”.

More info:

  • Hadoram Shirihai, A complete guide to Antarctic wildlife (2002)
  • David McGonigal & Lynn Woodworth, Antarctica and the Arctic. The complete encyclopedia (2001)
  • Tony Soper, Antarctica. A guide to the wildlife (2000)