Arctic Skua

Quick Facts

Scientific name:
Stercorarius parasiticus
Indigenous name:
isungaq, isunngarluk, isunngaq (Inuktitut), ihunngaq (Inuinnaqtun), miġiaqsaayuk (Iñupiaq), isunngaq (Greenlandic)
IUCN conservation status:

Least concern (assessed August 7, 2018)

Genome sequenced?
No. of chromosomes:
Size of genome:

Did You Know?

  • Arctic Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus), also known as Arctic or Parasitic Jaeger, is a large seabird and a relative of gulls that fly quickly.
  • The name Parasitic Jaeger comes from their habit of stealing food from other birds, termed kleptoparasitism ("Parasitic"), and the German word jäger, meaning hunter, because of its predatory nature ("Jaeger").
  • Arctic Skuas are also known as pirates of the sea as they are fierce predators.
  • They often steal food from other birds, chasing and attacking them while they are flying back with their catch.
  • The kleptoparasitic habit of Arctic Skua accounts for more than 95% of their diet during the winter migration.
  • The top predator of Arctic Skua is the Arctic fox.
  • Arctic Skuas are the most numerous of all the Skuas that breed in the Arctic regions.
  • They have a longer lifespan and can live up to 35 years.
  • Arctic Skuas are strong, acrobatic fliers and can reach a speed of up to 50 kph (31 mph).

Life History

The Arctic Skua, or Arctic Jaeger, is an energetic flier with falcon-like wings and long central tail feathers. They live most of their lives at the sea and come ashore to breed in the arctic summer. It is a circumpolar breeder and steals food from other birds (kleptoparasitism). The small animals, insects, and the eggs and young of other birds are the primary prey for them but fish make the dominant part of their diet. They become sexually mature at 3 years and create colonies for breeding. They make their nests on the tundra, where they host an average clutch size of four eggs. Both parents incubate the egg for about 26 days and aggressively protect their nesting sites together.

Importance in Indigenous Culture

The Inuit rarely ate Jaegers aside from emergencies. These birds were generally disliked among Inuit and were more often killed because of their habit of stealing food.

Conservation Issues

About 28% of all bird species are threatened worldwide, making seabirds one of the most vulnerable bird groups. Along with the effects of global warming, lack of food and predation by the Arctic foxes leading to a total breeding failure have been the biggest pressures for these birds.

In addition to these threats, their numbers are also declining because of the effects of the ongoing highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak. Although the Arctic Skua is globally listed as the least concern by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (global), it is identified as a priority species for conservation and stewardship in the Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.

Role of Genomics

Mikkelsen and Weir (2023) have worked on the phylogenomics for the seven species of the Skua family Stercorariidae and revealed that mitochondrial capture and nuclear introgression characterize Skua Species proposed to be of hybrid origin. They further highlighted a complex biogeographical history of interchange between the Arctic and Antarctic, with unexpected close ancestry between Skuas of the northern hemisphere and Brown Skua (Stercorarius antarcticus) of the southern hemisphere. The dynamic history of introgression during pelagic seabird radiation is highlighted by these findings.

There is a lack of genomic data for the arctic seabirds and the responses of arctic species to past change can uncover many secrets. Whole genomes from environmental samples will probably be recovered by future metabarcoding analyses, enabling a more precise interpretation of changes in Arctic Skua and associated communities.

According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the ongoing Avian flu is one of the greatest threats to multiple seabirds including the Jaegers. Genomics could emerge as a pivotal tool for the identification and monitoring of such emerging infectious diseases.


linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram