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Our Expert Says… "Like many opportunistic species, skuas show intelligence in their behaviors. They look out for inexperienced penguin parents who may be squabbling over nesting stones and grab eggs while they are distracted. Although creching helps protect the older penguin chicks, again skuas have been seen deliberately chasing the creche, looking for any chicks that are weak or injured that they can pick off."

The Brown Skua is also known as the Antarctic Skua, Subantarctic skua, or Falklands Skua! There is some controversy among naturalists about whether these are distinct species or not, but as the debate is very technical and rather scientific we will just leave them to it and talk about this commonly-encountered Antarctic bird. What is a separate species is the more delicate looking South Polar Skua, but the difference is subtle!

Although not particularly large in terms of length or wingspan, the Antarctic skua is a heavy bird, weighing in on average at more than 1.8kg (4lb). They use this weight to good effect, often stealing food from other species. Rather like gulls, they have a varied diet that includes fish, scavenged carrion, eggs, and most infamously, penguin chicks (as well as chicks of other seabirds).

Undoubtedly intelligent (a study in 2016 showed they could recognize different individual humans, for example) they are opportunistic and very often be seen close by penguin rookeries during the breeding season. They wait for the moment when a nest is left and pounce on the unattended eggs or chicks, using their large muscle mass to fly quickly away with their hapless prey clutched in their powerful bill. With the large gape they can also fly off with the egg held in the bill. As for taking the penguin chicks, it is not a clinical 'kill' and it can take a while and can be upsetting for many to witness.

One of the reasons penguins may abandon their chicks is due to disturbance (either by predators or by people). It’s for this reason that your expert Antarctic naturalist guides will always ensure that your shore excursions don’t disturb any nesting species.

You’ll find good populations of brown or Antarctic skuas on South Georgia Island, the Falklands, and throughout the subantarctic islands and antarctic peninsula.

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It is very important to keep to the right distance from penguin colonies - 5 to 10m according to the location, and slow down on your approach

If a penguin is nervous of your approach it might site up quickly and a skua nearby can pounce and grab an egg in less than two seconds, or grab a chick. You do not want to be responsible for that outcome.

Curiously, on Port Lockroy, the most visited location in Antarctica, breeding Gentoo Penguins do slight better where guest are allowed, compared to off limit areas. Some even nest right next to the entrance. It is thought penguins are awake and inquisitive when guests are around, but sitting tight on the nest. At other times, if they are sleeping, there might be times when an egg or chick is partially exposed, a potential target for the skuas!

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