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South Polar Skua off Safi, Morocco: second national record

A South Polar Skua (Stercorarius maccormicki) was observed yesterday, 16 September, on the Moroccan waters by Bob Flood and Ashley Fisher from a ferry traveling from Lanzarote to Cádiz.

The bird was observed at about 50 nautical miles off Safi, approximately where the red dot is on the map below (calculated on the basis of vessel speed and time of observation).

This would be the second known record of this Antarctic bird for Morocco. The first known record was observed off northwest Dakhla on 9 January 2000: “a bird with at least 45 growing or missing primaries on either wing, which is more typical for the South Polar Skua in the Northern Hemisphere” (Camphuysen 2003).

A study using light recording geolocators showed that South Polar Skuas from a single breeding population overwinter in different oceans (Kopp et al. 2011): in the southern Hemisphere, North Pacific and North Atlantic. In the latter, the majority winter off North America and only a minority of birds winter off West Africa (Mauritania).

According to that same study, the species should be very rare in the Western Palearctic outside the Macaronesian islands and the coasts of Mauritania and Morocco. And that’s indeed what the records from Peninsular Spain show: there are only two accepted records, in 2013 and 2016 respectively, both in Galicia (Copete et al. 2015, Gil-Velasco et al. 2018).

It should be remembered that a few years ago one of the observers photographed the first Black-capped Petrel (Pterodroma hasitata) for Morocco and continental Africa.

Thanks for Ricard Gutiérrez (Rare Birds in Spain) for the alert and for preparing the map. Thanks for the observers as well.


Camphuysen, C. J. 2003. Seabirds and marine mammals off West Africa. Responses 2000 cruise report. Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Texel.

Copete, J. L., Lorenzo, J. A., Amengual, E., Bigas, D., Fernández, P., López-Velasco, D., Rodríguez, G. & García-Tarrasón, M. 2015. Observaciones de aves raras en España, 2012 y 2013. Ardeola 62: 453–508.

Gil-Velasco, M., Rouco, M., Ferrer, J., García-Tarrasón, M., García-Vargas, F. J., Gutiérrez, A., Hevia, R., López, F., López-Velasco, D., Ollé, À., Rodríguez, G. Sagardía, J. & Salazar, J. A. 2018. Observaciones de aves raras en España, 2016. Ardeola 65: 97–139.

Kopp, M., Peter, H.-U., Mustafa, O., Lisovski, S., Ritz, M. S., Phillips, R. A. & Hahn, S. 2011. South polar skuas from a single breeding population overwinter in different oceans though show similar migration patterns. Marine Ecology Progress Series 435: 263–267.

The location where the South Polar Skua was observed: off Safi, Morocco (map by Ricard Gutiérrez / Rare Birds in Spain).

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