Jaegers, called Skuas outside of North America, are cousins of gulls that have a more raptor-like lifestyle. The smallest Jaeger, and the most common in North America, is the Long-tailed Jaeger.
This is a mostly pelagic – sea-going – species that comes ashore to coastal and alpine Alaska to breed. Handsome and elegant in flight, with a long tail, it is highly territorial. More than one alpine backpacker has been ambushed by a Long-tailed Jaeger protecting its nest.
This species’ diet in during consists primarily of lemmings and voles, so it is vulnerable to cycles in the populations of these rodents. The Long-tailed Jaeger is elegantly adapted for predation on these cyclic rodents. Because it depends on rodents only for breeding, it can survive crashes in rodent numbers without the irruptions and high mortality experienced by other arctic predators. In years with low densities of lemmings, the comparatively long-lived Long-tailed Jaeger simply does not breed and returns to sea. In effect it “skims the cream” from the population cycles of lemmings.
There are two other species of Jaeger that breed in Alaska; someday WC will get photos of them.
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