Arctic Skua Bird is a dark, sleek bird, gull-like yet with a hint of a falcon. Adults have elongated central tail feathers, and occur in both light and dark colour phases. The pale birds have creamy-coloured underparts and collar, with a contrasting dark cap. Dark-phase birds are uniform dark chocolate-brown, broken only by pale bases to the primaries forming a prominent 'flash', a feature common to all ages. Juveniles are dark all over, although often more rufescent. Agile and aerodynamic, with a fast, buoyant and powerful flight, in strong winds this species tends to 'shear' on stiff wings angled at the carpal.
Arctic Skua bird breeds at high latitudes, on tundra, coastal moors and inshore islands, favouring coastal locations where it can take advantage of seabird colonies. In the Arctic this species often nests close to Little Auk colonies. It feeds by stealing fish from other seabirds, engaging in long and aggressive aerial chases until the victim drops its meal. It nests in a loose colony, with adults aggressively defending their territories against intruders, dive-bombing humans and attempting to strike them on the head with their feet, sometimes hard enough to draw blood! Outside the breeding season the species is strongly pelagic, migrating to the oceans south of the Equator; on passage it can be seen around the coasts of our region, although only accidentally appearing inland.
Artic Skua Bird is mostly silent except when breeding, although outside this season they are at sea and typically out of earshot! On their breeding grounds they are quite vocal, a typical single call being a rather bright-sounding "eeow'eh!" or "kioaw'ho!". They have far-carrying display and territorial calls, a nasal mewing "eeeeee'yah eeeeee'yah eeeeee'yah" that rises, the final syllable higher and even in pitch, and not entirely dissimilar to the call of the Kittiwake. It can be delivered from the ground or in the air, sometimes repeated in long sequences, and is also given as a threat call when intruders approach the nest. When attacking intruders they give a short "cack-cack-cack" call, and another alarm call is a short "pyew". It also gives a short sharp "i'i'i" or "ik'ik'ik", and conversational grunting notes "eeh eeh eeh".