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Swooping skuas

6 July 2016
How time flies!   Firstly, apologies for being a tad quiet on the blog, but there has been an awful lot happening in the world of the NTS Seabird Ranger at St Kilda over the last month or so.  During the next few weeks I will try and write regular posts with summaries covering various seabird, marine and other island news.  Stay tuned! 


First off, Great Skuas.   Due to the scale of the job, surveying the Skua population across Hirta is only repeated on a triennial, or sometimes less frequent, basis.   If you know Skuas, then you will probably be aware that they take umbridge to trespassers on their territories and react violently if disturbed or caught unawares.  Skua nest and protective parentSkua swooping on Mullach Sgar


Many visitors to St Kilda would testify that skuas are definitely a force to be reckoned with.   A casual hike up the hillside is soon interrupted by the whistling sound of a skua as it swoops incredibly close to head height.  Skuas are not small birds and I’d be the first to admit that it can be quite intimidating seeing a pudgy brown feathered ‘bomb’ plummeting towards you.   Moving away from the bird really does seem like the right thing to do until you realise they nest in fairly close proximity to one another! Rushing out of one area generally just annoys the nearest neighbouring bird and the swooping continues!   More often than not that’s as severe as the ‘attack’ gets and tourists eventually ‘appreciate’ it is all part of the St Kilda experience.   Just sometimes though, a skua will swoop down at full speed with feet outstretched ready to hit an unsuspecting walker on their head or shoulder.  Skua swooping in Village Bay

Surveying this species involves pinpointing the location of all the nest sites so it is inevitable that I get hit (a lot) as I spend considerably more time in a bird’s territory than anyone would normally choose to.  It also means I get to see some amazing sights.Skua nest and egg with a chick breaking free of its shellSkua nest with recently hatched chick and eggSkua nest with egg and chick

Over the course of a few days in May and June, I sat at vantage points across various places on Hirta searching the landscape for skuas incubating eggs, birds interacting with their mates and at the very tail end of the survey period watching parents interact with recently hatched chicks.Skua adult with chickSkua adult feeding chick

It is one of the more labour intensive surveys to do by myself but I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting some areas of the island I don’t frequent too often, as well as spending time in the more familiar areas within Village Bay.Skua nest on ConachairSkua nest on Conachair with unusual coloured eggSkua nest with one egg just above the Head Dyke


Once I have plotted all of the nests on a map, I’ll write another post explaining the distribution of the birds across the island.  For now, it’s clear to see that the number of breeding pairs has increased since 2012 when the last survey took place.

Gina, Seabird Ranger




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