Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Great Skua - Stercorarius skua
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General Comments Not until pelagic trips were taken off our coast in the depths of winter, mostly after the mid-1990's, was it evident that the Great Skua is a regular though scarce bird over the cold waters out of sight of land. This is the ultimate "pirate of the seas", as skuas seem to pleasure themselves by chasing gulls, terns, and other seabirds and forcing them to disgorge their food items. Seldom are more than one or two seen per pelagic trip, but in recent years, trips out of Hatteras or Oregon inlets have more often than not been successful in running into a Great Skua. Identification of skuas can be quite difficult, as many are seen only at a distance; thankfully, the South Polar Skua occurs essentially only from May into the fall, and the Great Skua (which nests only in northern Eurasia) appears to occur only during the winter. Nonetheless, some records of skuas in the literature are identified based on time of year only, a potentially dangerous situation. There are only a few records of birds seen from shore or along the coast.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S1N
Global Rank G4G5
Coastal Plain Offshore visitor in winter. Rare to uncommon, but regular, off the northern half of the coast, at least south to Cape Hatteras; very rare farther southward to Carteret, but there are no records for the southern part of the coastal waters. Generally from early Jan to mid-Mar, with one record for 3 Apr. The only onshore records appear to be of a bird found dead at Fort Macon (Carteret) on 10 Jan 1989 [Chat 54:25 link]; a healthy bird photographed in flight over a tidal pond at Cape Hatteras point on 26 Feb 2015 [Chat 79:98 link]; one seen from Cape Hatteras Point on 11 Feb 2021 [Chat 85:64 link]; and one seen from this same cape on 5 Mar 2022 [Chat 86:79 link]. Peak counts: 10, off Hatteras Inlet, 9 Feb 1997; 4 on two dates. No records farther inland.
Piedmont No records.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips Take a winter pelagic trip out of Hatteras Inlet. It is being seen each winter on these trips, with more than a 50% chance of seeing it on a given trip. In several recent winters, it has been seen on nearly all such trips.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-11], LeGrand[2022-09-12], LeGrand[2021-05-17]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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