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Skuas

Arctic skua in flight

Image: Graham Catley

Skuas are 'piratical' birds, gaining much of their food by stealing it from other seabirds. They make a very small family with just four northern hemisphere species (all regularly seen in the UK, two breeding) and a few similar southern ones.

Skuas can be divided into two main types, the ‘great skua’ kind which are large, broad-winged and mottled brown and the rest, which are more slender, long-winged and have distinctive tail projections.

These (including the Arctic skua) are unusual among birds as they appear in two or three plumage forms (‘dark’, ‘intermediate’ and ‘pale’).

Arctic skua

A medium-sized dark-looking seabird with pointed wings, and pale patches at the wingtips. Often seen flying low and fast above the waves in pursuit of a tern or other bird, sometimes chasing it high ... More...

Arctic skua

Great skua

The great skua is an aggressive pirate of the seas, deliberately harrassing birds as large as gannets to steal a free meal. It also readily kills and eats smaller birds such as puffins. Great skuas sh... More...

Great skua

Long-tailed skua

The long-tailed skua is a medium-sized seabird and our smallest skua. It is the size of a black-headed gull, with slim wings and long delicate tail streamers. It is greyish above, and dusky below wit... More...

Long-tailed skua

Pomarine skua

The pomarine skua is a large seabird, nearly as big as a herring gull. It has long spoon-shaped tail streamers. There are two colour forms: dark - birds are all dark brown with small white flashes on ... More...

Pomarine skua