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Species Guide
A photo of a Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor)
Great Grey Shrike

Great Grey Shrike

Lanius excubitor

The Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) is a large, predatory songbird of the shrike family, Laniidae. Both sexes exhibit similar plumage, characterized by a pearly grey back, a distinctive black eye-mask, and pristine white underparts.

Identification Tips

Adults are medium-sized passerines, comparable in size to a large thrush, measuring 22 to 26 cm in length. They possess a black, hooked beak with a pale base, black wings with a white bar, and a long, black, pointed tail with white outer feathers. The upperparts are a pearl grey, while the underparts are white with a possible grey tinge.


The Great Grey Shrike favors open grasslands with scattered trees or shrubs, which provide vantage points for hunting. It is also found in bogs, clearings, and non-industrially farmed fields.


This species breeds primarily north of the 50° northern latitude in Europe and Asia, with most populations migrating south to temperate regions during winter. It is a vagrant in Iceland, the British Isles, the Mediterranean, and Korea.


The Great Grey Shrike is territorial and may breed in loose colonies. It is known for its habit of impaling prey on thorns or barbed wire, earning it the nickname "butcher bird." It is also a vigilant sentinel, often perching atop trees or poles to survey its territory.

Song & Calls

The male's song is a mix of warbles and whistles, while alarm calls are harsh and shrill. It may mimic the calls of small songbirds to lure them within striking distance.


Breeding occurs in the summer, with nests built in trees at varying heights. The species is monogamous during the breeding season, with courtship involving food offerings and duets between mates.

Similar Species

The Great Grey Shrike can be confused with its southern relatives, such as the Iberian Grey Shrike (L. meridionalis) and the Lesser Grey Shrike (L. minor), but differences in plumage and habitat preferences aid in distinguishing them.

Diet and Feeding

The diet is predominantly small rodents and large insects. Hunting involves perching high to spot prey, then swooping down or hovering to capture it. Prey is often stored in a "larder" for later consumption.

Conservation Status

The Great Grey Shrike is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, though its populations have been declining in Europe since the 1970s, likely due to changes in land use and pesticide application.

Great Grey Shrike Sounds

Recorded by: © 
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