Bonxie (Great Skua) Challenge
Noss National Nature Reserve, teaching and activity pack (SNH)
- To learn about the natural world through play
- To understand more about the interactions between predators and prey
- To understand how human disturbance can unwittingly affect the balance between predators and prey
You will need
- 'eggs' for the Kittiwakes to sit on (balls or cushions)
- 'food' for the Kittiwakes to collect (bean bags or something similar)
Did you know?
Bonxies (Great Skuas) are best known as pirates of the bird world, they ambush other seabirds and force them to drop their latest catch. They also eat eggs and chicks of smaller sea birds like kittiwakes. Bonxies are fiercely protective of their own nest sites and chicks, they will 'dive-bomb' humans who stray too close! Bonxies are very impressive birds and can easily be seen at some National Nature Reserves, such as Noss and Handa.
Before the activity
Explain that large sea birds like Bonxies and also Great black-backed gulls eat fish but they also steal other sea birds eggs and chicks. Nesting sea birds like fulmars and kittiwakes have to leave their nests to go off to feed and this leaves them vulnerable to attack from the big gulls.
Decide what you can use to represent 'eggs' and 'food' such as bean bags, balls or cushions.
- space the 'eggs' out on a grassy area or on the sand. All but three of the children are the 'Kittiwakes' and go and sit on an egg. The remaining three are the 'Bonxies'
- designate a feeding area about 5 metres from the nest site. When you shout 'Feed' all the 'kittiwakes' fly to the feeding area pick up an item of 'food' and fly back to their nest'.
- give the 'kittiwakes' 10 seconds head start and then let the 'bonxies' fly in to steal an egg before the 'kittiwakes' return and sit on them again.
- 'kittiwakes' who have lost their 'egg' are out of the game. Repeat a couple of times.
- now let all the kittiwakes' start again, this time food has become scarcer and you move the feeding area further away by 10 metres each time the game is played, until there are very few of the 'kittiwake' colony left in the game.
Explain that the eggs and young are usually fairly safe because each nest is guarded by two parent birds. While one goes to feed the other protects the nest. However when food is short or far away, both parents might have to hunt for food at the same time.
Explain that bonxies and great black-backed gulls also chase after smaller gulls and other seabirds and force them to drop their catch, the highway men of the bird world! You could play the game again, this time the bonxies can either intercept the kittiwakes and steal their catch or directly steal an egg. If the kittiwake is intercepted it has to fly back to get more food, and is therefore away much longer from the nest!
Ask the children how human activities affect the food available to seabirds.
- What do they think could happen when a colony of nesting sea birds is disturbed by people and / or dogs?
- What are the nesting birds likely to do?
- What are the black-backed gulls or bonxies likely to do?
Suggested Follow up
Find out more about the sea birds near you and visit a National Nature Reserve - see the 'where to go' section on teaching space for more details
See the RSPB bird index
Science - main