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Great skua Stercorarius 207012 Mark Hamblin (

Also widely known in Scotland as the ‘bonxie’ (a Shetland dialect word that seems to suit this powerful predator and food pirate), the great skua is one of the largest and certainly the most aggressive of all European seabirds.

What to look for

A bonxie is bigger than a herring gull and slightly smaller than a great black-backed gull, with mid-brown plumage freckled with darker tones. Look for large white flashes on its broad wings.

Interesting facts

Bonxies are adept at both stealing food from other seabirds and killing them. So when fish stocks are low (as has happened many times in Orkney and Shetland in recent decades) bonxies may become more predatory. Even a bird as large as a gannet isn’t safe if a bonxie has it in its sights.

When and where to see

Most bonxies come back to British waters in March (having wintered anywhere from the Bay of Biscay to West Africa). The bulk of Scottish bonxies breed in Orkney and Shetland.


The world’s largest bonxie colony is on Foula, off Shetland. Other hotspots are Hermaness and Hoy.

For more information see the RSPB's great skua page..