This question is prompted by a term in http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/73108561/Council-warning-threatened-falcon-species-launch-fists-of-fury-against-walkers

Falcons were bolshie birds, she said, being a raptor species

Earlier in the article, the same woman, a town official, said:

They defend their territory as any stroppy little falcon likes to do.

Her tone was one of admiration and even affection. From the context, it is clear that "bolshie" means "feisty".

Does bolshie come from Bolshevik, and if so, how did it come to be applied to birds? (I can think of no animal less a Marxist than a raptor.) Etymonline does not have bolshie.

  • 2
    Related: What do the British mean by “bolshie”? Dec 11, 2015 at 2:48
  • @CopperKettle thanks. Stroppy was also used. I'm going to let my question stand for awhile and see if any Kiwi or Aussie replies. The tone of affection was unmistakable in the article I read.
    – ab2
    Dec 11, 2015 at 2:52
  • This usage is common in British bird language as well but wouldn't tend to be applied to falcons (which are serious predators) except when defending their territory or prey against a bigger predator. Instead it would be used for small species which protest loudly rather than backing down when threatened or approached. For humans you could consider the angry little guy who challenges someone twice his size to a fight.
    – Chris H
    Dec 11, 2015 at 8:52

3 Answers 3


As an Australian native (AusE) speaker, I can confirm that "bolshie" is definitely used across the spectrum (derogatorily, neutrally, or affectionately), depending on the context. In an affectionate or admiring way (by far the most common usage), it means as per @deadrat - something that is feisty, independently minded, possibly punching above its weight, and not to be mucked around with.

When used negatively, it can mean someone who is ideologically or agenda-driven, and therefore less likely to listen to reasonable arguments from the other side.

  • This 'answer' does not address the questions, which were (1) how did the term 'bolshie' come to be applied to birds? and (2) does 'bolshie' come from 'Bolshevik'?
    – JEL
    Dec 12, 2015 at 5:20
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    This 'answer' is perfectly clear, comrade. Bolshie comes from Bolshevik (and you do not need to come to this forum to figure that out), and its application to birds is not especially different to its application to anything (or anyone) that demonstrates a feisty and tough style. This is not very hard stuff to think through.
    – Cargill
    Dec 13, 2015 at 6:51

This is a Britishism (see British English A to Zed: A Definitive Guide to the Queen's English) meaning unconventional, obstreperous, defiant, mutinous, and the like. (Also spelled bolshy, after the term bolshevik, Russian for majority, adopted by Lenin's faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, which came to call itself the Communist Party, retaining "bolshevik" as part of the name until Stalin dispensed with it in 1952. The bolsheviks were hard-line revolutionaries, and you could consult the opinions of Tsar Nicholas II and his family on bolshevik tendencies if the bolsheviks hadn't murdered all of them.

Outside the USSR, "Bolshie" became a slang word of derision for leftists and leftist parties and organizations, including British trade unions, whose ability to disrupt things with strikes was legendary. British trade unions are now a ghost of their former selves, but apparently British raptors still deserve the appellation.


'Bolshie' did come from 'Bolshevik'. How it came to be applied to birds may not be demonstrable, but ...

My research suggests that 'Bolshie', a diminutive of 'Bolshevik', was first applied to Bolsheviks themselves, individually and in the plural as a group. As a diminutive, a linguistic mechanism, 'Bolshie' may be applied both affectionately and, to lessen a perhaps unacknowledged fear or anxiety of the thing diminished, contemptuously or otherwise approbatively.

The first appearance of 'Bolshie' in Google Books appears to be this from the Spectator in 1918:

HAVELOCK WILSON'S APPEAL. [To the Editor of the "Spectator."] Sir, — The General Election appears to be imminent and patriotic Labour must mobilize for the fray. The Bolshie Bosses control the Labour Party machinery and political funds ...

This apparently contemptuous reference appeared in the Spectator around the time of the end of World War I. During that war, the March 1917 collapse and replacement of the Russian government with the Russian Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet, followed by the Bolshevik revolution and armistice with the Central Powers in December of 1917, was a telling victory for Germany.

Notably, it is not much later than the 1918 appearance of 'Bolshie' in the Spectator that 'Bolshy-bird' appears in a poem in a 1919 volume of Punch:

... it should contrive
To keep its pinions on the flap,
And by a tour de force survive
This devastating handicap,
Yet are there perils in the skies
Whereon we blandly shut our eyes,
But which are bound to be incurred,
And, notably, the Bolshy-bird.

This was, I surmise, an extended metaphor with direct reference to the Bolsheviks. It seems likely that the phrase 'bolshy-bird' was, in part, appealing because of the b-b alliteration.

Next, in the 1920 Mr. Punch's History of the Great War (Cassell, Limited, 1920 - World War, 1914-1918), we find this:


Here again, the 'bolshy-bird' appears metaphorically, this time as a "most obscene brand of vulture". The force of the comparison draws on the notion of the Bolsheviks preying on the ruins of the Russian Empire.

By 1940, 'bolshy' was established slang meaning "a person of violent and disagreeable habits":

1940 ‘G. Orwell’ in Horizon Mar. 187 If the Russian Revolution is anywhere referred to it will be indirectly, in the word ‘Bolshy’ (meaning a person of violent disagreeable habits).

["Bolshy | Bolshie, n. and adj.". OED Online. December 2015. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/21134?redirectedFrom=bolshie (accessed December 11, 2015).]

The "violent and disagreeable" slang meaning was subsequently applied directly (as opposed to the earlier metaphorical use) to some birds, the observed behavior of which around bird feeders and in the wild was "violent and disagreeable".

Blackcaps, which chase other birds away from feeders, frequently earn the nickname 'bolshie'.

Blackcaps have a reputation for being particularly bolshie, frequently shooing other birds away from feeders, but is this a fair assessment?

(From Fatbirder - linking birders worldwide..., in "Sightings of Bolshie Garden Bird", 2013.)

Bolshie bird? Blackcaps have a growing reputation for being grumpy at bird feeders, shooing off other birds that come to feed.

(From BTO: Looking out for birds, "Key questions and results", undated.)

Any bird that displays similar behavior, however, is likely to be described as 'bolshie', with affectionate as often as disparaging force:


(From an article in the Daily Express, 2002.)

So, when the falcon or raptors in general are described as a 'bolshie birds', the meaning is the slang meaning: they are violent and disagreeable, like the Bolsheviks.

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