Focus on Great Grey Shrikes
All photographs, Copyright Paul Gale

The Great Grey Shrike
The Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) is a regular winter visitor to the UK. It breeds across Northern Europe and into Russia. It frequents heathlands often favouring silver birch trees and feeds on small birds, voles, and insects. The photos below show an adult which wintered in Suffolk. The black face mask covers the lores (between eye and bill) and the ear-coverts. The white supercilium is not obvious.

Great Grey Shrike on Westleton Heath (Suffolk), April 1995.
Great Grey Shrike

The photos below feature a first winter Great Grey Shrike. The vermiculations (bars) on the underparts are conspicuous. Also the white tips to the black covert feathers on the wing can just be made out in the right hand picture. The extensive white on the tail feathers is apparent in the middle picture.

Great Grey Shrike at Farmoor (Oxon), November 1998.
Great Grey Shrike


The Southern Grey Shrike
The Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis) is closely related to the Great Grey Shrike and indeed was orginally treated as the same species. It breeds across southern Spain and Europe, North Africa, and into central Asia, where it inhabits hot, dry areas dotted with thorny bushes. The photos below show a pair of Southern Grey Shrikes near Almeria in Spain. The birds in the left photo have been disturbed by a Little Owl, which is a predator of fledgling shrikes. The colours of the Southern Grey Shrike are subtlely different to those of the Grey Grey Shrike. In particular, the underparts are a pale burgundy colour, the grey is more bluey on the back and the white supercilium over the eye is distinct.

Southern Grey Shrike in Almeria (Southern Spain) April 2000.
Southern Grey Shrike



The Steppe Grey Shrike
There are several races of Southern Grey Shrike. Most are resident (i.e. they spend the whole year in the same place), but one race, the "Steppe Grey Shrike" (Lanius meridionalis pallidirostris), is migratory. It breeds in Afghanistan and Mongolia, and occassionally one turns up in the UK, usually in late autumn. The two sets of photos below show a first winter pallidirostris which spent a couple of days in Essex. One distinguishing feature is the lack of the black mask between the eye and the beak. Also the bill is pale, with a dark tip. The white patch on the wing is quite extensive but is restricted to the bases of the primary feathers (and not the secondaries).

First winter "Steppe Grey Shrike" (pallidirostris) at Clacton-on-sea (Essex) in November 1996.
Steppe Grey Shrike

Steppe Grey Shrike at Clacton-on-sea (Essex), November 1996.
Steppe Grey Shrike

See also Red-backed and Isabelline shrikes
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