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The Bonxie or Great Skua

Bird of the Month

The Bonxie (as it is known in Scotland) or Greater Skua, Stercorarius skuao to be precise, is truly a seabird to be reckoned with

The Bonxie or Great Skua
The Bonxie or Great Skua

Its name Skua in Norse means “dumpy” but its strong well built and powerful frame is balanced by its long wings and murderous bill. It is an efficient killing machine and that is surely what it does.  It comes on shore to nest and while rearing its chicks it harasses smaller, less aggressive birds such as Kittiwakes, Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots , who while returning to their nests with bills full of sand eels, are bombarded by the Bonxies relentless aerial attacks until they are forced to give up their catch. The Bonxie then goes on to steal and kill the chicks, despite the entire flock flying to the chick’s defence.  They are quite simply awesome predators and will ‘bonx’ any human coming anywhere near their own precious nests or chicks

I witnessed all this and more on Foula while walking the island and have mixed feelings about this cruel ‘pirate of the skies’. I watched in awe as the sheep would hesitate before crossing “bonxie country” and then with their lambs tightly in tow they would skuttle-  hurtle – full pelt across “no sheep, only skuas land”.  I became adept at waving my jacket above my head to safe guard getting ‘bonxed’ myself.  But there is something so awesome about these birds as they practice their amazing aerobatic manoeuvres, and there is something so different and intriguing and unbirdlike about their calls, which are now embedded in my memory

Bonxie Prevention
Bonxie Prevention

Foula Island is a protected nesting area for these birds and their numbers have sky rocketed at the cost of the less aggressive birds.  In the past the islanders would harvest the eggs of the Bonxie as a much needed source of protein after a long and hard winter, but now the supermarket will deliver hen eggs to the island (weather permitting) within 24 hours and there is a fine of £1,000 for removing any Bonxie egg

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