Volume 49, No. 2

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Philopatry, mate fidelity, and nest-site fidelity for South Polar Skuas Stercorarius maccormicki at the Vestfold Hills, East Antarctica


1 Australian Antarctic Division, GPO Box 858, Canberra, 2601 Australian Capital Territory, Australia *(
2 Marine Conservation Program, Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, 134 Macquarie Street, Hobart, 7000 Tasmania, Australia
3 IMOS Animal Tagging, Sydney Institute of Marine Science, 19 Chowder Bay Road, Mosman, 2088 New South Wales, Australia (
4 9 Maddelena Court, Old Beach, 7017 Tasmania, Australia


VAN DEN HOFF, J., CARLYON, K., EMMERSON, L., MCMAHON, C.R. & MILLER, G.D. 2021. Philopatry, mate fidelity, and nest-site fidelity for South Polar Skuas Stercorarius maccormicki at the Vestfold Hills, East Antarctica. Marine Ornithology 49: 265 - 273

Received 05 February 2021, accepted 26 May 2021

Date Published: 2021/10/15
Date Online: 2021/09/30
Key words: disease, dispersal, human activity, immigration, philopatry


Antarctica experiences continual spatial and temporal expansions in human activities, but information to understand how resident species may be impacted is usually inadequate. We analysed resights of South Polar Skuas Stercorarius maccormicki that were individually marked with leg rings during 1999-2004 to compare breeding behaviours such as philopatry, adult mate fidelity, and site fidelity in the Vestfold Hills population, East Antarctica, with other regions. Despite their impressive dispersal capabilities, philopatry for birds resighted in the study area was within 4 km of the natal nest, and adult nest-fidelity was within 1 km of a previous nest site. Such faithfulness to site, combined with a life expectancy of > 25 years, indicates that displacement of returning adults and offspring from established breeding habitat may be a slow process, perhaps at generational timescales. Mate fidelity for birds ringed as breeding pairs exceeded 10 years, with individuals of pairs who failed to return or skipped breeding for single or multiple seasons being readily replaced. Resights of marked individuals also showed the Vestfold Hills receives individual skuas from distant sources; hence, we can learn more about the role of this predatory, highly migratory species in the spread of disease across landscapes and between seabird species. This study extends our understanding of skua ecology and their high nest-site and mate fidelity. Findings suggesting that their capacity to relocate in response to human disturbance may be limited.


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