Arctic Skuas are one of my favourite birds. They do, however, hunt Puffins to rob them of their fish.
I’ve previously photographed them hunting Common Guillemots for their fish:
I’ve climbed down the cliffs to be here, looking across the North Sea, where Puffins are bringing fish in to their pufflings. An Arctic Skua is circling overhead waiting for its next meal. It can see the glint of fish in a beak from hundreds of metres away. Then, the Puffin hunt begins:
Puffins can fly at up to 55 mph (that’s 90km/hr in new money) yet an Arctic Skua can just about out-pace them over a short distance, especially if they use the advantage of coming from a height. The Arctic Skua will grab feet or feathers and tip a Puffin out of the air. But to do that, it has to catch it first. Puffins will often abort their fish-mission and ditch in the sea, sometimes losing their sand eels in the process, to avoid being caught.
Here’s a Puffin in mid-ditch:
This Puffin is twisting and turning in a desperate attempt to outwit its pursuer:
It’s no good, the Arctic Skua is on its tail and closing in fast:
The Puffin opens its beak and drops its sand eels:
As they plop into the North Sea, the Arctic Skua pulls up and dives on them, attempting to pick them out of the water, while the Puffin escapes, empty-beaked.
Wow. I’ve witnessed a flyway robbery.
That’ll be one hungry puffling tonight and one satisfied Arctic Skua chick.