Tracking Arctic Skuas
Arctic Skuas have long held the fascination of birdwatchers, with their outstanding aerial skills which they use to chase and force other seabirds into abandoning their freshly caught fish. They also carry out impressive migrations heading south into the Atlantic for the winter, with bird recoveries being reported from as far away as Southern Africa and South America.
Rather worryingly, major crashes have occurred in the UK breeding population, with losses of over 81% reported over the last three decades. However, it is unclear whether these declines are driven solely by changes at the colonies or whether there are issues arising during the non-breeding season.
What we need to do
Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) tagging work carried out on Fair Isle in 2017 and 2018 indicated that feeding conditions were extremely poor with birds undertaking extended foraging trips – which had never been documented before. We need to extend this work programme to determine to what extent this is happening at other colonies.
Data from the four trackers deployed in 2019 needs to be downloaded and analysed and, added to the information already collected, this will give us a much better picture of where our Arctic Skuas spend the winter and the migration routes they take. During the winter of 2019/2020 we plan to produce a scientific paper to help our understanding about the reasons why Arctic Skuas are in such serious decline.
We also want to mobilise volunteers to help record the skuas' abundance, breeding success and diet which will help support Seabirds Count - the current national seabird census, and the annual Seabird Monitoring Programme.
Ultimately we will develop a Species Action Plan to bring together experts on Arctic Skuas from across their range to identify short-term solutions and long-term management strategies.
How you can help
If you’d like to support this tracking project, you can make a donation. The total cost for this project for the next two years is £150,000 and you can help make it happen.
Would you like to sponsor a GPS tag? If you donate £1500, your money will be used to support the purchase of a GPS tag and its attachment to a bird. Our team will provide you with a short account of where your bird spent the season. If you’d like to hear more about what your money can contribute to, then contact david.agombar [at] bto.org.
We are also seeking enthusiasts to help survey these magnificent birds at their breeding grounds. Whilst some experience of survey work would be preferable, we can provide support to help you get started. You will need be reasonably fit and enjoy walking in some of Scotland’s finest scenery. If you live in or plan to visit the Outer Hebrides, Caithness, Sutherland, Orkney or Shetland, then please get in touch with liz.humphreys [at] bto.org.
More information about this project
Diversity in birding: why it matters
BTO's Jamey Redway reflects on diversity in birding, and how organisations like BTO play a role in making birding more inclusive.