Great Grey Shrike

Lanius excubitor

25-25cm

Appearance

The Great Grey Shrike is the biggest shrike, and its markings are distinctive and vivid. The black bill has a predatory hook, the wings are black with a patch of white, the underparts are white, the crown and the back are grey, and there’s a black section across the eye which is bordered on top by a narrow white stripe. The black tail is quite long, and is bordered by white. Female resembles male but she gains some bars on her belly and breast area during the winter. Juveniles are rare in the region, and they’re browner than adults birds and have similar barring to the female.

Character

Has a predatory nature. Finds perches that give a good perspective for hunting, and may hover over prey before making the kill. The tail fans regularly when perched and when landing, and the Great Grey Shrike is usually seen in solitude.

Food

Diet includes small mammals, birds, insects and reptiles. Uses barbed wire or natural barbs as storage - skewers prey on these to return to them later.

Breeding

Not a breeding bird in the region. Female lays 4-7 eggs, and both parents tend to the young.

Population

There are two fleets of passage visitors received in the region; the first arrives in March or April, and the second usually in November; some of this second fleet remain over winter, but majority of birds breed in northern Europe. Approximately 100 birds or fewer visit each year.

Observation Tips

The hotspots for Great Grey Shrikes are the New Forest, where it usually visits yearly, and some heaths in Surrey during winter.

Voice

Not a very vocal bird, but has a ‘chek, chek’ chatter, or a piercing trill.
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