Shrikes are medium sized predatory birds with hooked bills, sometimes known as butcher birds in recognition of the way in which they catch their prey and feed (from the Latin genus derivative Lanius meaning butcher).
The adult male woodchat shrike has predominantly black upperparts and white underparts with a rufous crown, nape and upper mantle. The forehead is black extending to a black mask across the eyes and along the side of the neck finishing just prior to the rufous nape. Chin and throat are white as are the flanks and breast. The shoulders are a bold white partly obscured by a black lower mantle which becomes obvious when the bird is in flight. The back, upper wing and upper tail areas are in the main dark brown or black and the rump and the tip of the central tail feathers white. There is a broad white bar near the base of the primary feathers on the upper wing extending from the area of the alula (bastard wing) across to the median coverts, again particularly prominent in flight. The eye is very dark and the legs and stout hooked bill are black. Adult females are similar to the male although the crown and nape is paler and less rufous than the male and there is a whitish stripe across the top and around the eye and she is duller overall. Juvenile birds have grey brown upper parts with mottling to the head and shoulders and pale grey underparts with darker grey horizontal bars.
Alarm calls feature a repetitive ‘krek – krek – krek’ sound with a song consisting of a variety of rapid warbles, whistles and squeaks. The woodchat shrike will often mimic other bird calls and breeding pairs can be heard accompanying each other in duets where the female will follow the lead of the male.
Woodchat Shrike in flight
The preferred diet is one of beetles or spiders, caterpillars or large flying insects frequently caught on the wing or attacked on the ground from above but can also include small birds and lizards. The Woodchat spends a great deal of time perching in the open from where it can easily spot its potential prey and launch its attack.
Woodchat Shrike eating
The bird breeds in southern Europe, particularly in Spain and Portugal and can be found in Greece, Turkey and Israel and north west Africa. Over wintering normally takes place in tropical central Africa. There are four subspecies of the Woodchat Shrike including the Lanius Senator Badius (Balearic) found on the islands of the western Mediterranean and the Lanius Senator Niloticus (Caucasian) inhabiting Cyprus, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and parts of the Middle East.
Easy to spot with its striking rufous head, white breast and belly and black face mask as it perches prominently in the open seeking out its prey, the woodchat shrike is unmistakable. In flight it has fast, low, undulating wing beats and can be spotted swooping down on its prey or catching insects in mid flight.
Close up of a Woodchat Shrike
Constructing a nest out of grasses and stems, the cup shaped nest is built by both parents and located in the branches of trees. One brood of 5 or 6 pale yellowy green eggs is produced annually between April to July. Incubation by the female lasts for fourteen to sixteen days during which time the male feeds his partner.
A pair of Woodchat Shrikes mating
Juvenile Woodchat Shrike
Normal life expectancy is between three and five years.