Bird Families

Gray shrike

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Russian-English Biological Dictionary. 2013.

  • blackbird songbird
  • fruit fly

Origin of the species and description

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's 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. This is associated with its aggressive and predatory nature. It is believed that the shrike family survived the global ice age and were forced to eat meat, since there were simply no plant food and insects.

Video: Gray Shrike

The shrike is a medium-sized bird (roughly 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 rather long in comparison with the small body. On average, a bird is about 35-40 centimeters long, a wingspan of about 35 centimeters, and a bird weighs 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 down 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 edges. The bill is massive and strong, well adapted for hunting small game. The legs are small, but tenacious, which allows the shrike to cling to the thinnest branches of trees.

Appearance and features

Photo: What does the gray shrike look like

The appearance 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 from its ash-gray color. Differs in a rather aggressive and cocky behavior, as well as a wide black stripe on the eyes,
  • Japanese shrike. Perhaps the smallest subspecies of birds. 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. Its wings and tail are black, the belly is red, and the back is gray. However, there is a "black" mask on the eyes, which distinguishes all other shrikes,
  • tiger shrike. 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 on their eyes, which is characteristic of all shrike,
  • desert shrike. Inhabitant of African deserts. One of the few birds capable of living along the perimeter of the heat of the Sahara. It is characterized by its small size (about 20 centimeters long) and weighing 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 break open the hard shells of insects,
  • white-browed shrike. This bird subspecies lives in Africa at an altitude of 2000 meters. This is the smallest of the shrikes. Its weight is about 30 grams, and its 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

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 belt along the entire 50th parallel.

Russia is rightly considered the birthplace of the gray shrike. The birds are settled over a vast territory from the Volga to the South Urals. A significant part of the birds have completely populated the Siberian taiga and feel great on the banks of the Yenisei. At the same time, one should not think that the bird is capable of living exclusively in the forest. Far from it. On the contrary, shrikes try to populate the forest-steppe and happily live 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. In early autumn, birds flock and fly to Africa or India. But shrikes living in warm countries are sedentary and can live in the same 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 the relatively warm microclimate, shrikes live there constantly 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: Bird gray shrike

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

Interesting fact: In the event that a bird cannot immediately eat its prey, then it hangs it on the branches of trees. Then, as necessary, she tears off pieces to 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,
  • mouse,
  • shrews,
  • moles,
  • rats,
  • the 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 dives at her and kills with one blow. The shrike loves to attack flocks of passerines, catch beetles and butterflies on the fly, and hunt frogs and lizards.

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

Features of character and lifestyle

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 is able to chase prey for a long time. In addition, the shrike has a very strong sense of its own territory. He will attack and drive away all other birds that have flown on her. It often happens that the shrike attacks the birds twice or even three times more than itself, just to drive the uninvited guest out of the territory.

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

Interesting fact: The bird got its name "shrike" from the ancient Slavic word "to put", which means "to drive". That is, literally translated, "shrike" means "chase 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, or together (male and female). Moreover, along the entire route, the shrikes support each other and the percentage of missing birds is extremely small.

Social structure and reproduction

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 in front of her and flies around her in circles. Then he begins to build the nest and if the female has accepted the courtship of the male, then they continue building together. The bird nests in forest glades, on the outskirts of large forests and even in forest belts in the steppes. Shrike's nest 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 and contains chicks. Birds create it from the down, feathers and wool of their victims.

As a rule, there are up to 8 eggs in a shrike's nest. The female incubates them, and the male, in turn, completely supplies her with food. Incubation takes up to 15 days, and after this time, chicks hatch. Shrikes are very caring parents. They provide their chicks with 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 chicks' diet consists of insects. This diet is rich in protein, which helps the chicks to develop in the shortest possible time. The chicks spend three weeks in the nest, and then they fly out, but the parents continue to feed them for a month. Moreover, even when young birds are on the wing, they keep in touch with their parents, and they often feed them with their reserves. There are frequent cases when children and parents formed a flock and flew away together for the winter.

Natural enemies of gray shrikes

Photo: What does the gray shrike look like

And although the gray shrike is a tough predator in nature, it has enough enemies. Do not forget that this is a small bird whose weight does not even reach 100 grams. Clutches of eggs and chicks are most at risk. Shrikes are brave and aggressive, but even they cannot ward off or hinder a large enough four-legged predator.

The main enemies of the bird include:

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

The most significant danger to birds of this species is represented by humans. Due to their activity, the food supply of shrikes decreases, 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 like to settle near apiaries and feed on bees with pleasure. In just one season, they can cause significant harm to the bee farm and people have no choice but to hunt shrikes.

Population and status of the species

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 connected not with natural factors, but with human activity.Due to the fact that people are constantly increasing the amount of agricultural land and widely use pesticides to kill insect 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 reserves the number of gray shrikes has decreased by half 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 reproduce extremely poorly in captivity. There are only two known cases when these birds gave birth in a zoo enclosure. Therefore, it is not possible to artificially restore the shrike population. 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.

Gray shrike Is one of the most unique birds in the world. This is the only songbird that is capable of both singing beautifully and ruthlessly hunting 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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