Arctic Skua

Stercorarius parasiticus


The arctic skua is a large seabird about the size of a common gull. Arctic skuas are pirates: chasing other seabirds, such as puffins and terns, and stealing the fish they have caught. It can often be seen flying low and fast over the waves in pursuit of prey and only comes to land to breed. It is known to be very aggressive at its breeding grounds - dive-bombing anyone who gets close to the nest.

How to identify

The smaller skuas (arctic skua, the smaller long-tailed skua and the larger pomarine skua) are very similar and difficult to tell apart. Adult arctic skuas have two colour phases: a light phase with a white belly and dark back and cap and a dark phase which is uniformly dusky brown. Arctic skuas have two pointed central tail feathers that stick out beyond their main tail and broad white 'flashes' on the underside of the wings.

Where to find it

Nests on moorlands on Scottish islands and in the far north of Scotland: seen around the coasts during spring and autumn migration.


When to find it

  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September

How can people help

The survival of seabirds like the arctic Ssua is threatened by the pollution, overexploitation and degradation of our marine and coastal habitats. The Wildlife Trusts are working with fishermen, researchers, politicians and local people towards a vision of 'Living Seas' where marine wildlife thrives. This work has recently had a massive boost with the passing of the Marine Bill, promising sustainable development of the UK's marine environment. Do your bit for our Living Seas by supporting your local Wildlife Trust.

Species information

Common name
Arctic Skua
Latin name
Stercorarius parasiticus
Gulls and seabirds
Length: 44-67cm including a tail of up to 8cm Wingspan: 1.2m Weight: 450g Average Lifespan: 12 years
Conservation status
Classified in the UK as a Red List species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review and as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.