Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
South Polar Skua - Stercorarius maccormicki
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General Comments Although there are many more records in the state of this Antarctic region breeder than there are for the Great Skua, the South Polar Skua can be much more difficult to see than that species. Dozens of warm weather pelagic trips are made each year, compared to only a few in winter, and thus South Polar Skua records have accumulated at a faster rate, despite the lower chance of success for a given trip. A birder must often make 3-5 or more trips to see one, and this is at the "peak" of occurrence in late May or early Jun. This species migrates northward across the southern Atlantic in our spring, to occur in the North Atlantic from the latter part of May into the fall, before returning south. Perhaps the migratory route is somewhat circular, as there is a predominance of records in a narrow period in late spring. Unlike with the Great Skua, there are several inland (inner Coastal Plain) records of the South Polar Skua, immediately after hurricanes. Also, the South Polar Skua occurs in several color phases; all Great Skuas essentially "look alike".
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Offshore migrant and summer visitor. Rare to occasionally uncommon in late spring, mostly from the Cape Hatteras region northward; very rare to rare in summer and fall. Very rare farther southward, perhaps as the southern waters are farther west than the northbound flight of the species (but also perhaps because of very few pelagic trips). A handful of records from Cape Hatteras Point, where birds have been seen migrating north over the point in late spring. Notable were singles seen from this cape in 2022 on 7, 8, 21, and 26 Jun, and on 3 Jul! One seen from shore at Fort Macon SP (Carteret) on 18 Jun 2017 is possibly the only from-shore report south of Dare. There are two far inland records: one seen at Lake Waccamaw on 13-14 Sep 1984 (after Hurricane Diana) (AB 39:40), and one seen at Buckhorn Reservoir in Wilson on 1 Sep 2006 (after Tropical Storm Ernesto). Generally between late May and mid-Sep, with a peak in very late May and early Jun, and a lesser peak during Aug. Peak counts: 8, from shore at Cape Hatteras Point, 26 May 2021; 7, off Hatteras Inlet, 7 Aug 1999; 5 on two dates.
Piedmont No records.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips A trip to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream is necessary to have a good chance of seeing this species. In recent years, they have been seen on 10-20% of the trips from mid-May to late September; late May is your best bet, however. Single birds are usually seen, but numbers up to four or five have been found on a few occasions. Skuas are often found around large flocks of shearwaters along the inner edge of the Gulf Stream.
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Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-11], LeGrand[2022-12-22], LeGrand[2022-09-12]
NC Map
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