Graceful Predator | Outside My Window


Long-tailed jaegar in flight (photo by Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith, Creative Commons license on Flickr)

If I had to pick a Best Bird on my trip to Alaska it would be the long-tailed jaegar, also called long-tailed skua (Stercorarius longicaudus), the most graceful arctic predator.

Long-tailed jaegars are the smallest skua, a group of predatory seabirds that range from pole to pole. In flight their long tails and flowing movements reminded me of swallow-tailed kites as they floated over the tundra in pairs and loudly defended their territories. On the hunt they can hover like kestrels, as shown in the video below.

Though long-tailed jaegars are seabirds, their favorite foods in Alaska are collared lemmings and voles.

Illustrations of Nelson’s collared lemming and Ungava collared lemming at burrow (from Wikimedia Commons)

How does a seabird without talons capture rodents? Well, he doesn’t use his feet.

Long-tailed skua calling (photo by Allan Hopkins, Creative Commons license on Flickr)

Birds of North America Online explains …

Long-tailed Jaeger hunts these lemmings by hovering or poising in a headwind at height of 1-10 m [3-30 feet] (usually about 4 m) above tundra, like a kestrel unlike other jaegers, and by watching from perches on small rises or frost mounds … Having detected prey, often pursues it on foot and pecks it until it is dead; never uses feet to capture prey.

Birds of North America Online

Though both sexes can incubate, the male long-tailed jaegar spends two thirds of his time hunting for his mate while she stays at the nest.

We could see her white chest far away on the tundra, waiting for her graceful mate to come home.

Long-tailed jaegar on nest (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

(photos by Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith, Allan Hopkins and from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the captions to see the originals.)