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Great Grey Shrike

Great Grey Shrike
Scientific classification
Binomial name
Lanius excubitor

The Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor is a member of the family Laniidae, the shrikes.

The Great Grey Shrike breed in northern Europe and Asia and winters further south in those continents. It is known in North America as Northern Shrike; it breeds in Canada and winters south to the northern USA.

There is a very similar resident southern European species, the Southern Grey Shrike, Lanius meridionalis , occurring in the Iberian Peninsula and southern France, which was previously treated as a race of Great Grey.

The general colour of the upper parts is pearl grey; a stripe above the eye and the cheeks and chin are white, and a deep black streak extends from the forehead, through the eye, to the ear coverts. The scapulars are white and the wings black and white, with one or two white bars. The under parts are white, slightly tinged with grey. The bill is nearly black, pale at the base of the under mandible; the legs are blackish.

In the female the under parts are greyer, and are faintly barred with greyish brown. Young birds are greyish brown, with more or less distinct bars on the upper, and conspicuous ones on the under parts.

This bird has a characteristic upright attitude perched on the topmost branch of a tree or a telegraph pole. The keen eye of the watchful “sentinel” misses nothing that moves. It will swoop hawk like on a bee or drop lightly to the grass for an insect.

Though it uses its feet to hold beetles or flies, it has other methods with larger prey such as lizards, mice, shrews and birds. These when captured are impaled upon a sharp point, such as a thorn or the barbs of barbed wire. Thus secured they can be ripped with the strong hooked bill, but its feet are not suited for tearing.

Its flight is undulating but rather heavy, but its dash is straight and determined.

When disturbed its alarm note is a harsh jay like “skake, skake” . The song consists of pleasant warbling.

Wintering birds usually arrives in Great Britain in October and November. As a rule the bird is solitary, and when several reach our shores at the same time they speedily spread, each mapping out its hunting ground and reducing the numbers of the immigrants with which it has travelled.

Great Grey Shrike image from http://www.biologie.uni-hamburg.de/b-online/birds/regengl.htm.

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