Red-backed Shrike

Lanius collurio

17cm

Appearance

The black bill is hooked, the wings are pointy and the black tail is relatively long with white on the sides; the sexes differ. Males are brownish-red on their backs, they have a bluish-grey cap, back of neck and rump, the breast and flanks have a pinkish tinge, the throat is white, and there’s a thick black stripe that goes across the eye. Females are not as vivid in colour or marking, particularly on their faces; she does, however, have crescent-shaped markings on her underparts. Juveniles have the female’s crescent shapes on their pale bellies, and are barred greyish-brown overall; there is a black patch that is darkest just near the eye.

Habitat

This species almost never breeds in the region anymore, although it used to be quite common. When populations were higher, breeding territory included hedges, thickets, and areas of spacious bushland. May also dwell in birch and pine or low heathland, but majority of migrants are spotted in bushes around coastal locales.

Character

Perches in a place where it has an overview of its surroundings, and while perching, the tail moves frequently or spreads out like a fan. Dips in the air just before taking a perch, flies close to the ground between perches, and can also hover when hunting. In typical shrike behaviour, the Red-backed Shrike may store prey it does not need immediately by skewering something sharp like a bristle or spike through the middle of the insect.

Food

Diet includes insects, small birds and mammals, lizards; may be seen hunting insects while flying.

Breeding

Female lays between 4 and 6 eggs and she then incubates them for 12-16 days. Both parents tend to the hatchlings, which learn to fly when they’re about 14-15 day’s old.

Population

Birds arriving in the spring are on their way to breed in Africa, while autumn visitors are predominately juvenile birds on southern journeys. Numbers have severely diminished in the last century, and now it is rare for paired birds to stay in the region over the summer, and even more rare for them to raise a brood. Approximately 200 Red-backed Shrikes pass through the region each year.

Observation Tips

Red-backed Shrikes are often found in the region after southeasterly winds during autumn; juvenile birds are the most commonly sighted.

Voice

Has an abrupt ‘tchak-tchak’ call, and an abrasive, warbly song.
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