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Arctic skua stercorarius 207012 Danny Green (rspb-images.com)24/02/2009

No other Scottish seabird can match an arctic skua for sheer agility in the air. It’s a fast-flying pirate, able to dive and weave to steal fish from smaller seabirds, such as guillemots, puffins and kittiwakes.

What to look for

Arctic skuas come in two colours: dark and light. The majority in Scotland are dark (chocolate brown). So if you see a medium-sized seabird with a long, pointed tail making aerial attacks on other birds at sea, it’s a fair bet it’s an arctic skua.

Interesting facts

The proportion of ‘light phase’ arctic skuas increases as you travel north from Scotland. Most of the birds in northern Canada and the high arctic have pale bellies and throats.

When and where to see

Orkney and Shetland have most of the breeding arctic (and great) skuas in Britain and Ireland. But don’t expect to see any in winter, when they’ll be in the southern hemisphere. April to August is a good time to look around the Outer Hebrides, Caithness, Orkney and Shetland.

Hotspots

Hoy in Orkney, Foula, Fetlar, Unst and Yell in Shetland. For good views of smaller numbers, try the boardwalk on Handa.

For more information see the RSPB's arctic skua page.