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Arctic skuas in decline

Arctic skua. Photo: Ian Francis

ARCTIC skuas could be lost as a breeding bird in the north of Scotland should the species’ dramatic decline continue, the RSPB has warned.

A study by the bird charity’s centre for conservation science has found that a lack of food, particularly sand eels, was the main cause behind an 81 per cent population decline since 1992.

Senior conservation scientist with the RSPB Scotland, Dr Allan Perkins, said the whole food chain is impacted by the decline of sand eel numbers.

“If these sharp declines continue, it’s possible that Arctic skuas will be lost as a breeding species in Scotland,” he said.

Arctic skuas – or Skootie aalin in local dialect – have their stronghold in Orkney and Shetland.

They are medium-sized seabirds with pointed falcon-like wings and long pointed tail feathers, and are known as the pirates of the seabird world, taking advantage of their diving skills to steal food from other seabirds.

In 1992, the 33 colonies included in the study held 1,061 breeding pairs of Arctic skuas, but by 2015 this number had dropped to just 200.

If such declines are replicated in the other Arctic skua breeding colonies it could mean as few as 550 pairs are left in Scotland, the RSPB said.