Family Skuas (Stercorariidae)

Least Concern

Great Skua (Catharacta skua)


French: Grand Labbe German: Skua Spanish: Págalo grande

Catharacta Skua


, 1764,

Faeroe Island


In past, sometimes considered conspecific with all three congeners. Often lumped with C. antarctica, but mitochondrial DNA, plumage and biometrics all suggest they are separate species. Monotypic.


Iceland, Faeroes, N Scotland, Jan Mayen, Svalbard, Bear I, Norway and NW Russia (Kola Peninsula, Novaya Zemlya and neighbouring Vaygach I). Winters predominantly off Iberia and NW Africa, south to N Senegal; smaller numbers winter on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Occasional juveniles move as far S as the Cape Verde Is and Brazil.

Descriptive notes

53–58 cm; 1100–1700 g; wingspan 132–140 cm. Generally brown plumage but with much white, yellow, ginger and black flecking, individually very variable;... read more


Mainly vocal on the breeding grounds. Long-call is a series of 5–7 short bleating barks, e.g. “piEh... read more


Marine. Breeds on islands, usually avoiding areas frequented by humans, preferring flat ground with... read more

Food and feeding

A highly opportunistic feeder, but also frequently showing individual specializations in diet and feeding, with some colony-specific... read more


Starts May. Loosely colonial, highly territorial. Nest scrape usually lined with dead grass. Usually two eggs, but only one laid by some... read more


Migratory, moving S from its breeding areas in Aug–Sept and returning N in Mar–Apr... read more

Status and conservation

Not globally threatened (Least Concern). The breeding population, confined to Europe, is estimated at 32,600–34,500 mature individuals. These comprise 9600 pairs... read more

Recommended citation

Furness, R.W., Boesman, P. & Garcia, E.F.J. (2020). Great Skua (Catharacta skua). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 7 April 2020).