1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Skua
SKUA, the name for a long while given to certain of the Laridae (see Gull), birds which sufficiently differ in structure, appearance and habits to justify their separation as a distinct genus, Stercorarius (Lestris of some writers), or even subfamily, Stercorariinae. Swift of flight, powerfully armed, but above all endowed with extraordinary courage, they pursue their weaker cousins, making the latter disgorge their already swallowed prey, which is nimbly caught before it reaches the water; and this habit, often observed by sailors and fishermen, has made these predatory, and parasitic birds locally known as “Teasers,” “Boatswains,” and, from a misconception of their intent, “Dunghunters.” On land, however, whither they resort to breed, they seek food of their own taking, whether small mammals, little birds, insects or berries; but even here their uncommon courage is exhibited, and they will defend their homes and offspring with the utmost spirit against any intruder, repeatedly shooting down on man or dog that invades their haunts, while every bird almost, from an eagle downwards, is repelled by buffets or something worse.
- Thus written by Hoier (circa 1604) as that of a Faeroese bird (hodie Skúir) an example of which he sent to Clusius (Exotic. Auctarium, p. 367). The word being thence copied by Willughby has been generally adopted by English authors, and applied by them to all the congeners of the species to which it was originally peculiar.
- This name in seamen's ornithology applies to several other kinds of birds, and, though perhaps first given to those of this group, is nowadays most commonly used for the species of Tropic-bird (q.v.), the projecting middle feathers of the tail in each kind being generally likened to the marlinespike that is identified with the boatswain's position; but perhaps the authoritative character assumed by both bird and officer originally suggested the name.
- It has long been subjected to persecution in these islands, a reward being paid for its head. On the other hand, in the Shetlands a fine was exacted for its death, as it was believed to protect the sheep against eagles. Yet for all this it would long ago have been extirpated there, and have ceased to be a British bird in all but name, but for the special protection afforded it by several members of two families (Edmonston and Scott of Melby), long before it was protected by modern legislation.
- It is the “Fasgadair” of the Hebrides, the “Shooi” of the Shetlands, and the “Scouti-allen” of the fishermen on the east coast of Scotland.