Great Skuas (Bonxies) – Shetland

Two bonxies

The great skua (Stercorarius skua), known locally in Shetland as bonxies are aggressive but somehow lovable predators. Their favourite tactic is to hassle other birds such as gannets until they drop their catch. They are not adverse to giving the same treatment to any human who strays too close to their nest, there have been many a time when I have been dive bombed by an angry bonxie.

The bonxies have been having a bad time the last year or two as bird flu seems to have hit them particularly hard. 

Great Skua Bonxie Shetland

My first encounter with great skuas was in 2010 when I went as a trainee ringer and volunteer on a ringing trip to the Shiant Isles. During the trip we tried unsuccessfully to catch a few adults but we also managed to find a few nests and ring the chicks. It was really good to see the chicks up close, and being attacked by an adult bonxie is part of the rights of passage when it comes to ringing these birds.

I think skuas in general, and great skuas especially, seem to get a hard time and are often blamed for declines in other species. Although they may have some impact on bird populations that are already in decline, there are many more reasons such as climate change, habitat loss, lack of food and pollution that have more impact. Bonxies are much maligned, but I am a fan.

Great Skua
Great Skua Bonxie Shetland