South Polar Skuas Are a Bunch of Bird-Eating Bullies

Seabirds beware.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of The National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.

Episode Transcript: ​

The world of birds has its bullies, too. Take for example the South Polar Skua [SKOO-ah]. 

Tom Johnson, a seabird observer on NOAA ships, describes what skuas eat in addition to fish:

“During the summer in Antarctica, South Polar Skuas will…end up feeding their young…by catching and killing the chicks of other seabirds…Skuas often take up camp around large seabird colonies like penguin rookeries.”

Once their breeding season is finished, South Polar Skuas will then fly all the way to northern oceans, such as the North Atlantic, to find large flocks of shearwaters or gulls or terns. They hang out along the periphery waiting for those birds to find food. 

“And as soon as a shearwater comes up with food and a skua happens to take notice, that shearwater’s in serious trouble. The shearwater will pull up a squid or something and take off. And if a skua sees it, it’ll come in and sometimes strike the shearwater, sometimes land on top of the shearwater and bite it and strike it with its bill and hit it with its wings, all in the hope that the shearwater will throw up the squid or the fish that it had just caught. They’re true bullies of the ocean...”

For a look into the world of seabird surveys, begin at our website,


Written by Chris and Todd Peterson 
Narrator: Michael Stein
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York: South Polar Skuas recorded by G.F.Budney; calls from colony of Adelie Penguins T.A. Parker III.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2013 Tune In to  December 2016