Notes from St Tiggywinkles: The pirate of the skies

Pirate of the seas?
Pirate of the seas?

Over the years I have treated thousands of birds from dozens of species.

We can usually identify them, as most are birds of our woods, gardens and countryside.

Then a mystery turns up and everybody rushes to see it and have a go at identifying it. They are usually migrants or sea birds that should not be in our neck of the woods.

Usually in September we see vagrant shearwaters and little auks but this character turned up at the beginning of November.

Found huddled in a field being attacked by other birds I must admit, judging by the shape of his beak, to thinking he was some kind of shearwater. Katy, one of our nurses with a penchant for birds came up with the name Pomarine skua.

I had never heard of a Pomarine Skua let alone seen one.

The bird was a bit mucky where he had been crouched in the field.

He did not seem to be able to stand up.

I put it down to him being an exhausted migrant having lost his bearings and could go on no longer.

First aid and fluids soon bucked him up. Then hourly feeds of a sand eel had him on his feet after two days.

I say ‘him’ but to tell the truth none of us knew how to sex a skua, let alone a rarity like a Pomarine skua.

Then came the bombshell. An expert in sea birds pronounced our patient as an Arctic skua (Stercorarius parasiticus) breeding light morph. Bit of a mouthful.

Very much a bird of the coast and the open ocean skuas are, in fact, pirates among sea birds robbing others of their food. For the moment our skua looks like a ‘pussy cat’.

Hard to imagine him being a pirate of the high seas.