Gray shrike

The gray shrike is a truly unique bird that combines the ability to sing beautifully and the bloodthirstiness of a predator. The bird belongs to the order of passeriformes, but has nothing in common with an ordinary sparrow. This rather large songbird is divided into several species, and in this material we will mention all representatives of this family. In addition, we will talk about the habits of this unusual bird and give many interesting features from its life.

Origin of the species and description

Photo: Gray Shrike

Photo: Gray Shrike

For the first time, in fundamental science, this bird was described in the middle of the 18th century in the 10th volume of Carl Linnaeus' book “Systems of Nature”. Since then, the description of the bird has changed several times, but in general, the Swedish biologist was not mistaken and characterized the bird as a small winged predator.

In terms of evolution, the shrike is considered one of the four most ancient birds on Earth. Related to this is its aggressive and predatory nature. It is believed that the family of shrikes survived the global ice age and were forced to eat meat, as there was simply no plant food and insects.

Video: Gray Shrike

The Shrike is a medium-sized bird (about like a thrush). The bird's head is large and round. The wings are rounded at the edges, and the tail of the shrike is quite long compared to the small body. On average, the length of the bird is about 35-40 centimeters, the wingspan is about 35 centimeters, and the weight of the bird is 70-80 grams.

The back of the bird has a grayish plumage, the belly is covered with brownish feathers. A horizontal black stripe runs through both eyes and up to the ears. It is she who makes the bird recognizable and it is difficult to confuse it with someone else. The tail of the bird is coal-black, with small white borders. The beak is massive and strong, well adapted for hunting small game. The paws are small but prehensile, which allows shrikes to cling to the thinnest branches of trees.

Appearance and features

Photo: What the Gray Shrike looks like

Photo: What the Gray Shrike looks like

Outer the type and behavior of a bird depends on which subspecies it belongs to. In total, there are five large subspecies of this bird, which differ significantly from each other in size and color.

  • gray shrike. The most numerous representative of the species lives in many regions of the Eurasian continent. It got its name because of the ash-gray color. It has a rather aggressive and cocky behavior, as well as a wide black stripe on the eyes;
  • Japanese shrike. Perhaps the smallest subspecies of the bird. It lives exclusively in the east of Japan and therefore has such a name. This small bird, about 20 centimeters long, has a very unusual color. Her wings and tail are black, her belly is red, and her back is gray. However, there is a “black” eye mask that distinguishes all other shrikes;
  • brindle shrikes. Lives in China and the Far Eastern regions of Russia. Differs in very bright, brindle, plumage. The tail and back of the bird are brown with black stripes, which almost completely repeats the color of the Ussuri tiger. By the way, this subspecies also differs in that females do not have a black mask over their eyes, which is characteristic of all shrikes;
  • desert shrike. African desert dweller. One of the few birds able to live along the perimeter of the heat of the Sahara. It is characterized by small size (about 20 centimeters long) and a weight of 40-50 grams. The back and tail of the bird are black, and the belly is white or light pink. A unique feature of the desert shrike is its curved beak, which allows it to open the hard shells of insects;
  • white-browed shrike. This subspecies of the bird lives in Africa at an altitude of 2000 meters. This is the smallest of the shrikes. Its weight is about 30 grams, and the body size does not exceed 20 centimeters. This bird stands out from the rest with a white brow, which contrasts with the “black” mask. The female of this species of shrike has red spots on the sides and is very different from the male, which does not have such spots.

Where does the gray shrike live?

Photo: Gray Shrike in Russia

Photo: Gray Shrike in Russia

Most songbirds prefer to live in warm climates, but the shrike has adapted well to life in the northern hemisphere. At present, the bird's habitat stretches from the temperate to the Arctic zone throughout the entire 50th parallel.

Russia is rightly considered the birthplace of the gray shrike. Birds are settled over a vast territory from the Volga to the Southern Urals. A significant part of the birds has completely populated the Siberian taiga and feels great on the banks of the Yenisei. At the same time, one should not think that a bird is able to live exclusively in the forest. This is far from true. On the contrary, shrikes try to populate the forest-steppes and live happily in the steppes of Bashkiria.

Despite the fact that the bird is very shy and tries to avoid meeting with humans, shrikes can be found in such densely populated regions of Russia as Moscow, Ryazan, Voronezh and Lipetsk regions.

The gray shrike living in Russia is a migratory bird. At the beginning of autumn, birds gather in flocks and fly to Africa or India. But shrikes living in warm countries are sedentary and can live in one territory for a long time. In addition to Russia, shrikes live in North America, Asia, and also in Africa. In India, shrikes do not nest, but only wait out the winter. Also, birds have chosen Kamchatka. Due to relatively warm microclimate, shrikes live there permanently and do not fly away for the winter.

Now you know where the gray shrike is found. Let's see what this bird eats.

What does the gray shrike eat?

Photo: Gray Shrike bird

Photo: Gray Shrike

Despite its modest size, the gray shrike is a predatory and bloodthirsty bird, often hunting for its own pleasure.

Interesting fact: In addition if the bird cannot immediately eat its prey, then it hangs it on the branches of trees. Then, as needed, she tears off pieces to the prey and eats them. Very often, a shrike's nest is surrounded by the crucified corpses of small animals.

The main diet of shrikes includes the following creatures:

  • small birds;
  • mice;
  • shrews;
  • moles;
  • rats;
  • bats;
  • large beetles (May or weevil);
  • lizards;
  • frogs.

If bats nest nearby, then there is no doubt that the shrike will hunt them, catching them right in the air. The shrike is a very good hunter. He is able to sit in one place for a long time and look out for prey. After that, he swiftly swoops down on her and kills with one blow. The shrike loves to attack flocks of sparrows, catch bugs and butterflies on the fly, hunt frogs and lizards.

The shrike can fly up to a kilometer for its prey, and wait until the target gets tired and slows down. During the period of incubation, the shrike catches many large insects, since the chicks need protein. The bird is able to feed on carrion and does not disdain to tear off pieces from the game killed by other predators.

Character and lifestyle features

Photo: Gray Shrike in nature

Photo: Gray Shrike in Nature

As mentioned above, the shrike is an aggressive predator that can hunt and kill without even feeling hungry. The bird is reckless and capable of chasing prey for a long time. In addition, the shrike has a very strong sense of its own territory. It will attack and chase away all other birds flying on it. It often happens that the shrike attacks birds twice and even three times as large as itself, just to drive the uninvited guest out of the territory.

Fearlessness and aggressiveness help shrikes tease large birds, attack them from different sides and force them to leave their own territory. Birds live in pairs and within their family they maintain very friendly and strong relationships. Shrikes are monogamous by nature and remain faithful to their partner all their lives. In addition, they are caring parents who nurse their chicks for a long time.

Interesting fact: The bird got its name “shrike” from the ancient Slavic word “put”, which means “drive”. That is, in literal translation, “shrike” means “chasing a magpie”, and this characterizes the behavior of this bird in the best possible way.

Another important feature of these birds is that they can make migratory flights both in a flock of 50-80 individuals, and together (male and female). Moreover, the shrikes support each other all along the way and the percentage of lost birds is extremely small.

Social structure and reproduction

Photo: Gray Shrike in Flight

Photo: Gray Shrike in Flight

In Russia, the nesting season for these birds begins in early May. The male sings songs to the female, bows rhythmically to her and flies around her in circles. Then he begins to build a nest and if the female has accepted the courtship of the male, then they continue building together. The bird nests in forest clearings, on the outskirts of large forests and even in forest belts in the steppes. The nest of the shrike is also very interesting. It has two layers. The first layer is hard. It consists of thin twigs and dry grass. The second layer is soft, it contains chicks. Birds create it from down, feathers and wool of their victims.

As a rule, there are up to 8 eggs in a shrike's nest. The female hatches them, and the male, in turn, completely supplies her with food. Hatching takes up to 15 days, and after this time the chicks hatch. Shrikes are very caring parents. They provide their chicks not only food, but also safety. One of the parents is always close to the nest and is ready to protect the chicks from any predators.

The diet of chicks consists of insects. Such nutrition is rich in protein, which helps the chicks develop in the shortest possible time. The chicks spend three weeks in the nest, and then fly out, but the parents continue to feed them for a month. Moreover, even on the wing, young birds keep in touch with their parents and often they feed them with their reserves. It is not uncommon for children and parents to form a flock and fly away together for wintering.

Natural enemies of gray shrikes

Photo: What a gray shrike looks like

Photo: What the gray shrike looks like

Although the gray shrike is a tough predator in nature, it has plenty of enemies. Do not forget that this is a small bird whose weight does not reach even 100 grams. Egg laying and chicks are most at risk. Shrikes are brave and aggressive, but even they cannot drive away or interfere with a sufficiently large four-legged predator.

The main enemies of birds include:

  • foxes;
  • lynxes;
  • martens;
  • ferrets.

Also, other large predators may eat eggs or snack on non-flying chicks. Even adult cats can threaten a shrike nest if they wander this far from home. Flying predators can also pose a significant danger to shrikes. Usually, hawks or eagles prey on inexperienced young, as adult birds are very nimble and fast. They easily hide in the foliage and are not easy to take by surprise.

Humans pose the greatest danger to birds of this species. Due to their activities, the food base of shrikes is decreasing, which leads to a slow but steady decline in the number of these birds. There are cases when people hunt these birds, exterminating entire families. However, such hunters can be understood. Shrikes love to settle near apiaries and feed on bees with pleasure. In just one season, they can cause significant damage to beekeeping, and people have no choice but to hunt shrikes.

Population and species status

Photo: Gray Shrike

Photo: Gray Shrike

And although the gray shrike is able to stand up for itself and repulse any predator, the number of this bird is rapidly decreasing. And this is due not to natural factors, but to human activity. Due to the fact that people are constantly increasing the amount of agricultural land and the widespread use of pesticides to kill pests, the number of shrikes is decreasing every year.

In the taiga regions of Siberia and Bashkiria, the number of birds cannot be accurately counted, but in the Meshchersky Reserve, the number of gray shrikes has halved over the past 10 years. Currently, only 50 pairs of these birds live in this reserve. Scientists ornithologists estimate the total number of birds in Eurasia at 20-30 thousand individuals. About 30 thousand more individuals live in Africa. This is enough to restore the population and maintain the natural balance, but a certain threat to the species still exists.

The fact is that gray shrikes breed extremely poorly in captivity. Only two cases are known when these birds gave birth in a zoo enclosure. Therefore, it is not possible to artificially restore the population of shrikes. At this point in time, the population of shrike causes the least concern and in the coming years they are not threatened with extinction and extinction as a species.

The gray shrike is one of the most unique birds in the world. This is the only songbird that is able to sing beautifully and mercilessly hunt its own kind. Outwardly, the shrike looks like a completely harmless bird, but behind this cute appearance lies a ruthless predator capable of coping with prey twice its size.

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