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South Polar Skuas - Bullies of the Oceans - with Tom Johnson

The bird world has its bullies, too.

Meet the South Polar Skua, a predatory seabird. During summer in Antarctica, South Polar Skuas feed their young on the chicks of other seabirds. And once their breeding season ends, the skuas fly to northern oceans, such as the North Atlantic, to find large flocks of shearwaters, gulls, or terns - there to steal the food of their fellow seabirds.

Full Transcript



South Polar Skuas, Bullies of the Oceans

With Tom Johnson

By Chris and Todd Peterson

This is BirdNote!

[Call of a South Polar Skua and ocean surf]

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

[Call of South Polar Skua] 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.”

[Sounds from an Adelie Penguin rookery]

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. [Call of Cory’s Shearwater] 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...”

[Call of South Polar Skua]

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


Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York: South Polar Skuas [127108] recorded by G.F.Budney; calls from colony of Adelie Penguins [42337] T.A. Parker III

Call of Cory’s Shearwater xeno-canto 145489 recorded by B. Steffen.

Ship moving through water recorded by Kessler Productions.  Ocean surf Nature SFX Essentials 26 recorded by Gordon Hempton of

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 2016/2018  Narrator: Michael Stein

ID#      SPSK-02-2013-12-04  SPSK-02   Zoom disk 1 Track 25 at 23:04 and 24:00 recorded at Hog Island Camp, ME

For a look into the world of seabird surveys, check out Tom Johnson's description on the eBird website:

Sights & Sounds

Related topics:

Related field notes: