Great Grey Shrike

The Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) is a member of the shrike family Laniidae. It is found throughout much of northern Europe and Asia during times of breeding and winters further south in those continents. It is known in North America as the Northern Shrike; it breeds in northern Canada and Alaska and winters south to the northern USA.

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

The upper parts of this shrike are pearl grey. It also sports 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.

Females have greyer under parts and are faintly barred with greyish brown. Juveniles 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 telephone pole. Its keen eyesight ensures that it misses nothing that moves. It will swoop hawk like on a bee or drop lightly to the grass for an insect.

Even though it uses its feet to hold beetles or flies, it has other methods with larger prey such as lizards, mice, shrews and birds. When captured, these larger food sources are impaled upon a sharp point, such as a thorn or the barbs of barbed wire where they can be ripped with the strong hooked bill since 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 traveled.