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A photo of a Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio), male
Red-backed Shrike, Male

Red-backed Shrike

Lanius collurio

The Red-backed Shrike, Lanius collurio, is a carnivorous passerine of the shrike family, Laniidae. A bird of striking contrasts, the male boasts a reddish back, a grey head, and a distinctive black eye stripe. The underparts are tinged with pink, and the tail exhibits a black and white pattern reminiscent of a wheatear. Females and juveniles are more subdued, with brown, vermiculated upperparts and buff, vermiculated underparts.

Identification Tips

Adult males are easily identified by their reddish upperparts and grey heads, complemented by the black eye stripe. The underparts are subtly pink. Females and young birds can be recognized by their brown and vermiculated upperparts, with buff underparts that also show vermiculation. The tail pattern is a useful feature for identification in both sexes.

Habitat

The Red-backed Shrike inhabits a variety of landscapes across Europe and western Asia, favoring open country with scattered shrubs and trees, which provide vantage points for hunting.

Distribution

This migratory species breeds from Western Europe to central Russia and winters in the eastern regions of tropical Africa and southern Africa.

Behaviour

The Red-backed Shrike is known for its unique hunting behavior, often perching conspicuously as it scans for prey. It feeds on large insects, small birds, frogs, rodents, and lizards. A notable habit is its practice of impaling prey on thorns or barbed wire, creating a "larder" for later consumption.

Song & Calls

The call of the Red-backed Shrike is a sharp, shrill cry that has given rise to its name, derived from the Old English "sċrīc," meaning "shriek."

Breeding

The Red-backed Shrike breeds across its wide range, with some populations experiencing declines. In Great Britain, where it is now a rarity, there have been sporadic breeding events, particularly in Scotland and Wales.

Similar Species

The Red-backed Shrike can be confused with other shrike species, but its distinctive coloration and tail pattern are usually sufficient for accurate identification.

Diet and Feeding

This species is a predator, feeding on a variety of prey including insects, small birds, and small vertebrates. Its characteristic behavior of impaling prey serves both as a food store and a display to potential mates.

Conservation status

Globally, the Red-backed Shrike is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. However, there are regions where the species has suffered significant declines, leading to local conservation concerns. In the UK, it is considered a 'Red List' species due to its rarity.

Red-backed Shrike Sounds



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