The bird breeding season is well on its way out here on St Kilda. Most seabirds now have chicks, but quite a few are still incubating eggs. Further south in the British Isles many species have already produced fledglings, but the further north you go the later the season gets going. At this point in the season most Puffin eggs have hatched and the parents are out foraging for suitable food for their young, which enjoy sandeels and sprats. At this time, massive wheeling carousels of puffins form over the colonies into which birds coming and going from their burrows join in. Doing this probably offers an element of protection as they are at their most vulnerable when either just returning from a foraging trip with a mouthful of fish or leaving the colony to head out to sea. Joining in with a massive wheel of fellow Puffins provides safety in numbers and probably also allows a Puffin to delay returning to its burrow if it sees a threat nearby. Skuas and gulls will often target puffins at the edges of the colony. The Great Skuas themselves are now looking for food to bring home to their chicks.
photo: Will Miles
The skuas are very adaptable and can utilise a variety of different food sources. Indeed, the diet of the Great Skua is under intense scrutiny at the moment as our intrepid PhD student Will Miles is in his third year of looking at what Great Skuas eat, and whether or not they are impacting on the petrel population of St Kilda. The Great Skua population has gone down since its peak of over two hundred pairs in the mid-90’s to around 150 pairs this season. There is a small population of Arctic Skuas on St Kilda, three pairs to be precise. Last year two of the pairs nested, one pair fledging a single young. So far this season all three pairs have produced eggs, however they have yet to hatch.
Feeling the vibes: the intrepid student himself