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 indicated that feeding conditions were extremely poor last year with birds undertaking extended foraging trips – which had never been documented before. We urgently need to extend this work programme in 2018 to determine to what extent this is happening at other colonies.

The team also need to return to Fair Isle to retrieve geolocators deployed on birds last summer, which will reveal major insights into the birds' migration routes and wintering areas. 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.

Arctic Skua. Photograph by Richard Cope.

Arctic Skua with tracking device fitted

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 £110,000 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

Download our PDF with more information on the questions the project is trying to answer -