Return of Bird of the Week: Brown Skua


Brown Skua on a Nest, South Georgia Island, Southern Ocean

Brown Skua on a Nest, South Georgia Island, Southern Ocean

The Skua is the bad boy of the Southern Ocean. Egg stealer, penguin chick grabber, bully, carrion eater, kleptoparasite; by human standards, this is a bad bird.

Brown Skua Attempting to Raid a Gentoo Penguin Nest

Brown Skua Attempting to Raid a Gentoo Penguin Nest

They work in pairs to steal Gentoo Penguin eggs, with one distracting the penguin and the other stealing the egg. They are smart, skilled predators. But in the hour or so that WC watched this particular Gentoo colony, no Skua raid was successful.

Skua Flyover and Gentoo Reaction

Skua Flyover and Gentoo Reaction

The taxonomy of Skuas is hotly disputed. Some ornithologists have as many as three species; other insist that all Skuas are subspecies of the Great Skua. Certainly there were color variations across the areas WC visited.

Nesting Pair of Brown Skuas, South Georgia Island

Nesting Pair of Brown Skuas, South Georgia Island

Some ornithologists call Skuas “notoriously brutish creatures” but that’s unfair. They are doing what they evolved to do. It’s a mistake to project human values on another species. It’s a cousin to North America’s three species of Jaeger and, like the Jaeger, has  generalist approach to dinner and feeding its kids. And it is highly successful at it.

For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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One thought on “Return of Bird of the Week: Brown Skua

  1. Thanks WC. Disney and now Pixar have been good at anthropomorphism. Then we humans try to change nature to fit our skewed image. Even Smokey Bear cause more harm that good in my opinion … not all natural fires are bad. Of course humans also mess with our environment in the pursuit of $$$.

    Here in Idaho my favorite “generalist” bird the Common Raven. They are extraordinarily intelligent and very successful in their paired raids on Sage Grouse nests. Ravens and Sage Grouse lived for centuries in balance then humans came along and tipped the scales in some areas heavily in favor of the Raven. One example is some excellent Sage Grouse habitat near Jackpot, Nevada. As Jackpot grew it created more roads and traffic and road kill in the area year round, it opened a big community dump with year round food. Humans built more power lines and other structures that provided ready made nesting sights and perches for Ravens. As the Ravens flourished the Sage Grouse numbers dropped. Some great research demonstrated that the decline of Sage Grouse in that area was because of the Raven’s extraordinary “generalist” skills and in the study areas they successfully raided over 90% of the Sage Grouse Nests. The researchers even got them on camera in the act. The project then controlled the number of Ravens by putting corvicide laced chicken eggs in nests. As the Raven population dropped in the study area the Sage Grouse nesting success rate soared from less than 10% to 80% and higher even 100% in one of the transects. Now there is much pressure in Nevada and Wyoming to demonize the Raven in general and not put the blame on human development of parking lots, dumps, highways, gas and oil exploration and production and related roads etc. encroaching on or even eliminating Sage Grouse habitat. So the Raven becomes a victim along with the Sage Grouse as humans pursue $$$ with little regard to protecting the environment that we share with Ravens and Sage Grouse.

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