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the web of life in southern Africa

Catharacta antarctica (Subantarctic skua)

Bruinroofmeeu [Afrikaans]; Subantarctische …. [Dutch]; Labbe antarctique [French]; Skua [German]; Moleiro-subantárctico [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Charadriiformes > Family: Laridae > Genus: Catharacta

Catharacta antarctica (Subantarctic skua)

Subantarctic skua catching fish, pelagic trip off of Cape Town, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Catharacta antarctica (Subantarctic skua) Catharacta antarctica (Subantarctic skua)

Subantarctic skua. [photo Peter Steyn ©]

Subantarctic skua with caught fish, pelagic trip off of Cape Town, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Distribution and habitat

Breeds at the Antarctic Peninsula, southern South America and sub-Antarctic islands, dispersing across the southern oceans including southern African waters. Here it is fairly common of the southern and western coasts of the region, while absent off Mozambique.

Predators and parasites

Strangely enough it is sometimes killed by its own prey, as an 18cm cuttlefish was once recorded to eat through the bird's stomach lining and body wall, which caused the bird's death. It is also a host of protozoan parasites and susceptible to avian cholera.

Movements and migrations

It is resident at some breeding sites and migratory at others, although present year-round in southern African waters, with numbers peaking in winter. This coincides with the influx of post-breeding adults and juveniles from Marion and Crozet Island.


It mainly eats fish and large aquatic invertebrates, doing most of its foraging by grabbing prey from the water surface or stealing food from other birds. It is a regular forager around fishing vessels and often predates the nests of burrowing petrels at their colonies. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Vertebrates
    • fish
      • Merluccius (hake)
      • Scomberesox saurus (Sauries)
      • Engraulis encrasicolus (Anchovies)
      • Maurilocus muelleri (Lightfishes)
    • birds
    • invertebrates
      • squid
      • crustaceans
      • Lepas (goose barnacles)
      • molluscs
      • seabirds
      • carrion


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.