Thursday, 21 May 2009
Out on Rubha Coigeach this bird was one of a pair starting to defend a nesting area, but it let me come within a metre to take this photograph. The great skua is one of my favourite birds, along with the pintail duck of course.
So understated, rather tubby looking, but letting you walk up to them is based on confidence rather than laziness. They know that they can out-fly any bird in the sky and beat off any ground based predator. Back in the 1970s I hitchhiked on fishing boats and ended up on Foula. Once there, it proved hard to get off, and the best place for my tent was amongst a colony of these birds. They attack unmercilessly if defending eggs and chicks, coming in low and sweeping up into your face, raking their clawed feet across your scalp. However, after a couple of days, they accorded me my own territory around the tent, so I was free to watch them.
Harrassing a bird like a gannet to get them to release their catch, they fly so fast and turn so tightly, the larger bird has no where to go. If that doesn't work, I have seen them grab the tail or wing of the bird in mid-air sending both into a death-tumble to the ground. Once the gannet drops the fish, the skua breaks away and swoops to catch it in mid air whilst the other bird is still struggling to regain control before hitting the ground or sea.