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Bull-headed Shrike

Lanius bucephalus

The Bull-headed Shrike, Lanius bucephalus, is a passerine bird of the shrike family Laniidae, native to eastern Asia. This bird measures approximately 19–20 cm in length, with the male sporting a brown crown, a distinctive white eyebrow, and a stark black mask. Its back is a grey-brown, while the wings are dark with a notable white patch. The flanks exhibit a rufous color, and the rest of the underparts are whitish, adorned with fine barring. The female resembles the male but is somewhat duller and browner, with a brown mask and lacking the white wing-patch.

Identification Tips

When identifying the Bull-headed Shrike, look for the male's brown crown, white eyebrow, and black mask, as well as the white patch on the wings. Females are similar but have a brown mask and no white wing-patch. Both sexes have rufous flanks and finely barred underparts.

Habitat

This species favors open habitats such as farmland and woodland edges. It is also known to frequent parks and gardens within urban environments.

Distribution

The Bull-headed Shrike breeds in north-east China, Korea, Japan, and far-eastern Russia, including Ussuriland, Sakhalin, and the Kuril Islands. During the winter, northern populations migrate south, with some reaching as far as southern China. There have been occasional sightings of vagrants in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. A unique subspecies, sicarius, is found solely in the mountains of Gansu Province in west-central China.

Behaviour

The Bull-headed Shrike is known for its habit of perching prominently as it waits for prey. It is a predator mainly of insects such as beetles and crickets, but it will also hunt lizards and crustaceans. Like its relative, the Great Grey Shrike, it impales its prey on sharp points like thorns to tear it into smaller pieces, cache food, or mark territory boundaries.

Song & Calls

This species is noted for its harsh grating and chattering calls and is also capable of mimicking the calls of other birds.

Breeding

Nests are constructed among bushes or bamboo, where two to six eggs are laid. These eggs are incubated for 14 to 15 days, and the fledglings leave the nest approximately 14 days after hatching.

Similar Species

The Bull-headed Shrike may be confused with other shrikes, such as the Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus), but can be distinguished by its unique head pattern and wing patch in males.

Diet and Feeding

The diet consists mainly of insects, with beetles and crickets being common prey. It also feeds on lizards and crustaceans, often using a 'larder' method of impaling its catch on thorns or barbed wire for easier consumption or storage.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List has classified the Bull-headed Shrike as Least Concern, indicating that, currently, there are no immediate threats to its population levels that would warrant a higher risk category.

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Bull-headed Shrikes on Birda

Photos
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More Shrikes

A photo of a Southern White-crowned Shrike (Eurocephalus anguitimens)

Southern White-crowned Shrike

Eurocephalus anguitimens
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