Puffins chased by Arctic Skuas

A Puffin’s dinner is an Arctic Skua’s dinner.

Arctic Skuas are hunting Puffins for their fish on Westray and they’re having intermittent success. The action starts in the evening as a first Arctic Skua arrives and circles, looking for the tell-tale glint of silver fish in a returning Puffin’s beak. I could tell this one had spotted a Puffin Deliveroo delivery as it dropped its wings and started flying directly, hard and low, out towards a Puffin. I didn’t know it was a Puffin at the time, as it was still several hundred metres away. That suggests Arctic Skuas have acute eyesight, since it could see there were fish in the beak of a bird I couldn’t see at all.

Arctic Skua and Puffin - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

There’s a spectacular aerial display as the Puffins attempt avoidance behaviour and fly as fast as they possibly can to their burrows. A hungry puffling is waiting for them and they have invested considerable time and energy fishing fo their catch.

Arctic Skua and Puffin - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

The light is getting dim and yet the Puffins keep coming with their catch and the Arctic Skua keeps chasing them. Sometimes the Puffins drops it catch and sometimes it escapes. It reminds me of playing the brutal, and subsequently banned, game British Bulldog in the playground. Sometimes the chase is low over the water:

Arctic Skua and Puffin - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

And sometimes the chase is high in the air:

Arctic Skua and Puffin - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

And occasionally, just occasionally, the Arctic Skua is successful, the Puffin jettisons its fish and the Arctic Skua manages to pick them up from the surface of the sea.

Arctic Skua and Puffin - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Life; it’s brutal out there.

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