Great skua

Great Skua

©Margaret Holland

Great skua

Scientific name: Stercorarius skua
A fierce pirate of the sea, the great skua is renowned for stealing fish from other seabirds and dive-bombing anyone that comes near its nests. It breeds on the Scottish Isles.

Species information


Length: 53-66cm
Wingspan: 1.3m
Weight: 1.3-1.5kg
Average lifespan: 15 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015).

When to see

April to September


Great skuas are large seabirds, about the same size as herring gulls. They are pirates of the sea: chasing other seabirds, such as gannets and gulls, and stealing the fish they have caught. They also eat smaller birds, such as puffins, and are known to be very aggressive at their breeding grounds - dive-bombing anyone who gets close to their nests. Great skuas winter off the Spanish and African Atlantic coasts.

How to identify

The great skua is our largest skua. It is dark brown, with streaks of gold, and a dark cap and thick bill. It shows broad flashes of white on its wings when it flies.


Nests on the moorlands of Scottish islands, but can be seen around the coast during spring and autumn migration.

Did you know?

The great skua is also known as the 'Bonxie'. This local name was probably derived from an old Norse word meaning 'dumpy' and referred to the shape and size of the bird.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts are working with fishermen, researchers, politicians and local people towards a Living Seas vision, where coastal and marine wildlife thrives alongside the sustainable use of the ocean's resources. Do your bit for our Living Seas by supporting your local Wildlife Trust.