Shrike Laniidae

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The big family which the Shrike is made up of three genera, of which the "Lanius"  is the largest genus. This name itself in Latin, is the word for "Butcher" giving some background as to the behavior of this bird as a Butcherbird. Most Shrikes are of the Eurasian and African origin.

They choose open habitats with the branches of low scrubs offering viewpoints where they could perch. Hence flat grasslands is out, but in the case of those absolutely flat rice fields where both Brown and Tiger Shrikes are seen, there were enough stakes driven into the ground by the famers where the birds could choose as their look out post.

Next, Shrikes are territorial birds. Here in Malaysia, their "space" is not for breeding but for feeding, hence the area they reserved for themselves could be much smaller. Being territorial is one reason for adopting that very conspicuous presence in an open area. For example, 1] the vantage point to watch for prey passing by and 2] to advertise their claim of the territory. Shrike having fixed habits of returning to the same place in their migration also make attempt to be in position early to establish their territory.

Shrikes spend more time catching insect such as Beetles, Grasshoppers and Crickets then small vertebrates like Lizard and small frogs. Then not forgetting that their hooked beak speaks of the basic predatory nature. The prey they seek are usually small and can be taken to a feeding site with their beak. Unlike raptors who are blessed with powerful feet, those for the Shrikes are not strong enough for gripping and tearing. It is so often mention that Shrikes have to impale the captured prey on a thorn or sharp object, for them to tear the prey into small pieces. But not really, large chunk of food could be placed at the fork of a branch for support while the beak in the same way could slowly divide into small portions for swallowing.

 

In world wide there are 30 species of Shrikes and in South-east Asia we get to only 6 species. Here in Malaysia, we get to see the 3 species. Of which variations from the Brown Shrikes could also have passed by our area.

The presence of these birds in our area would be announced by their calls especially that of the Brown & Tiger Shrikes and which are heard rather often. Below are the 3 species that we see in Malaysia.

 
Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach

1. Brown Shrike  Lanius cristatus cristatus

 Size & diagnostic markings:- 20 Cm. The size of this Shrike is 20 cm with uniform brown on the upper part and whitish underpart. A black mask over the eyes with a white supercilium.

 Distribution :-  In the area of Central China, Eastern part with Korea and Japan. Each before the onset of northern winter period, the Brown Shrike would be among the earliest winter visitors to reach Malaysia
 Habitats & preferences:- The bird prefers an open country environment. Usually level ground with wide open space in the lowlands. There is more than one preferences, some birds like the forest edge environment or even the gardens in our house.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- The bird is seen perched on the top of fencing running along major highways throughout the country. These are usually those areas which has vast open land and along country roads but much less on  jungle tracks.
 

Record of the Brown Shrike's call :-    and Videos:-

 

Brown Shrike  # 1

Brown Shrike  # 2

Brown Shrike  # 3

Brown Shrike  # 4

Brown Shrike  # 5

Brown Shrike  # 6

Brown Shrike  # 7

Brown Shrike # 8

Brown Shrike  # 9

Brown Shrike  # 10

Brown Shrike # 11

Brown Shrike  # 12

Brown Shrike  # 16

Brown Shrike # 17

Brown Shrike  # 18

 
 My personal jottings on the Brown Shrike :-

 There are 3 sub-species of Brown Shrikes. The one that I got all my pictures was the one with a light brown forehead - the Lanius crustatus crustatus which is very close to the Lanius crustatus confusus but the separation of these 2 sub-species is very difficult. Then there were claims that the Shrike with a bright brown forehead Lanius crustatus supercilious is also seen in Malaysia. But according to record the other sub-species with grey-headed - Lanius crustatus lucionensis  should be widespread in the region. I have yet to get a picture on this sub-species even though I may have encountered it before.

Which ever the claims may be look for variations in the Brown Shrikes that get in your way. One with bright brown or another bird with grey crown should be rare Brown Shrikes in this region other the the more common Brown Shrike with a dull brown crown.

The Brown Shrike perches could somewhere below eye level to the electric wires overhead. has the habit of returning to the same perch. Undisturbed it prefers lower perches like that of eye level. All position of perch are in spot facing open area, preferably with an all round view.

 

Brown Shrike Lanius crustatus lucionensis

 

This is a pictures of the juvenile Brown Shrike that I had taken in the mangrove forest, an unlikely place for a Shrike. Despite of the lower quality of the picture, can be seen that bird has an obvious tinge of grey compared to the usual brownish hue.

Hints by the dull barring also explain that the color of this juvenile bird was not develop yet.

2. Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus

 Size & diagnostic markings:- 18 Cm. The Tiger Shrike is bulkier but short at 18 cm. The adult has grey crown with the usual mask over the eyes. Underpart is also white while the upper part is deep rufous brown.

 Distribution :-  This is a bird sharing the same native land with the Brown Shrike i.e. Central, east China, Korea and Japan. It winters in Malaysia with the largest number of birds.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is also a bird of the lowland and seen more often in forest edge particularly in low hills.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- On forest edge with slopes or ways up a low hill. Most part of Peninsula Malaysia during the migratory seasons.
 

Record of Tiger Shrike's calls :-    and Videos:-

 

stage1  sub-adult  # 1

Tiger Shrike  # 2

Tiger Shrike  # 3

Tiger Shrike # 4

Tiger Shrike  # 5

Tiger Shrike  # 6

Tiger Shrike  # 7

adult # 8

adult  # 9

Tiger Shrike  # 10

Tiger Shrike # 11

Tiger Shrike  # 12

Tiger Shrike  # 16

stage1  sub-adult # 17

Tiger Shrike  # 18

 
 My personal jottings on the Tiger Shrike :-

The Tiger Shrikes that we get to see at year end when they are plentiful are juveniles. hardly can an adult be spotted and wondering where these adults are. Then towards the end of the migrating season at the first quarter of the year, I saw the sub-adults. This time, the frequency the Tiger Shrikes seen was very low. Then on very rare occasions the adult with grey head spotted. There is a dramatic reduction in the number of chance meetings with these birds.

The Tiger Shrike perch is normally eye level. Could be slightly above or below. Remained perched for very long period and could also returning to the few favorite spots. All position chosen are among foliages with a good peeping capabilities.

 

3. Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach bentet

 

 Size & diagnostic markings:- 28 Cm. The extra length on the tail, made the bird reaching 28 cm long. The broad mask over the eyes made it look like a black head coupled with a white throat. The tail is also black while the flanks in rufescent otherwise the upper part in light rufous-chest.

 Distribution :-  Resident in Russia, Indian sub-continent, southern China, Taiwan then down to the Philippines and the Sundas. This bird is elusive or selective. Not easily seen in Malaysia. But there are plenty of them around during the migratory season.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a bird of the lowland open country preferring tall grasses
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- So far all my encounters were in Perak State and I am still trying to learn more about this bird.
 

Record of Long-tailed Shrike's calls :-    and Videos:-

 

Long-tailed Shrike  # 1

Long-tailed Shrike  # 2

Long-tailed Shrike  # 3

Long-tailed Shrike # 4

Long-tailed Shrike  # 5

Long-tailed Shrike  # 6

Long-tailed Shrike  # 10

Long-tailed Shrike # 11

Long-tailed Shrike # 12

Tiger Shrike  # 13

Tiger Shrike # 14

Tiger Shrike  # 15

 
 My personal jottings on the Long-tailed Shrike :-

The Long-tailed perches could be very high or very far away when human are present. Without interference the bird could descend to eye level. High as in the highest structure as in the bare tip of tall trees or on High-Tension wires. Unlike other Shrikes, the Long-tailed Shrike could be the only bird within that vicinity. So not often to meet up with another once the Shrike we met was spooked and taken flight to elsewhere

 

Without fail, most write up on Shrikes mentioned about the peculiar habit of Shrikes impaling their victim on thorns or the shark pointed part of barb wires then taking time to slowly finish their meals. I have seen videos of this action on TV and also pictures posted by the late Lawrence Poh that such practice do in fact happening with the few species of Shrikes, particularly the Long-tailed Shrike that comes to this country. In real life I am still waiting for my chance to document such an incident. This means that though the practice is widely adopted by Shrikes, the frequency that they get landed with a prey like a lizard that needs impaling is low. Either it is not easy for the Shrike to capture them easily or there are other food that is more appealing and easily obtained. Which ever the reason may be, it is easy to come across such a scene in Malaysia.

I mentioned about the exception high numbers of birds seen, mainly juveniles, at the beginning of the migratory season. Then on the contrary, very much lower the numbers of adult encountered on their journey back north. Still pondering - where have these adults gone? Or had they adopted a different pattern while passing through that the movements of the birds are not that visible for a pattern to be established.

Lastly I "squeeze" in the Long-tailed Shrike into this page though I do not having that many pictures. The Long-tailed Shrike appearing mainly in Perak State is a very shy bird. Could be seen from afar and taking flight soon as I get closer Their numbers again are not big and only on rare occasion that a single bird was spotted. Hope I could complete my collection soon.