What an incredible nickname this bird has, it’s real name is a Red Backed Shrike. They are a carnivorous passerine bird, and a member of the Laniidae family. There are more than 30 species of Shrike found in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Don’t be fooled by its appearance, the Shrike is a tiny bird but is known to be a ruthless killer. They prey on mice, lizards, and other birds, and it impales its catch on the nearest spike before tearing into it. Shrikes will kill even when they aren’t hungry, and will imitate the songs of other birds to lure in their victims.
The family name “Lanius” is derived from the Latin word for “butcher”. This is where it gets the nickname of “butcher bird” from because of its grisly habit of impaling its victims onto thorns, spikes or barbed wire fences. This helps them to tear the flesh into smaller, more conveniently sized fragments, and serves as a cache so that the shrike can return to the uneaten portions at a later time.
Its virtual extinct in the UK, making this a Red List bird. It is also listed as a Schedule 1 species under The Wildlife and Countryside Act.
Recently a male Red Backed Shrike had appeared not far from where in live in England. It’s thought this Male is on its migratory journey heading south from Scandinavia to Winter in Africa. It’s been blown off course with the storms and high winds we’ve had recently.
Due to the protective nature of this bird and its legal status it was hard to get close using a hide or a mixture of fieldcraft and using the available cover. So I used a long lens and converter for my images.
It was amazing to see this bird and watch it hunt lizards, insects and other creatures around these gorse bushes. After which it slept, preened and enjoyed the sunshine.
Its is said by experts in the field that Shrikes should be classed as birds of prey because they are a carnivorous bird with a hooked beak. Which they use to crack prey’s skull, and impale the victim on sharp objects. Shrikes also cough up pellets.
We chew with our teeth and spit out the bones. Birds chew with their gizzards which then collect the bones, fur, and other indigestible bits into a lump. The bird spits out the lump when it’s a convenient size. Owls, eagles, hawks and falcons cast pellets but so do many other birds “including grebes, herons, cormorants, gulls, terns, kingfishers, crows, jays, dippers, shrikes, swallows, and most shorebirds.
I witnessed this behaviour with this Red Backed Shrike but it happened so fast that I didn’t really catch it very well. The following images show you what I saw. The images are’t really sharp but you can see this fascinating aspect to this birds behaviour.
I hope this beautiful bird gets to where he needs to be for Winter. It would be amazing if these birds nested here in the British Isles once more. I’ve seen them before in Europe, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen them in Britain.