Great Grey Shrike
Black patch over beady eye,
Fearsome pirate perched up high,
Marauder at your lookout post,
Smaller birds fear you the most.
You squeak and chatter, call and trill
And imitate with cunning skill.
You wait, your victim to impale,
Just like the Vlad of fairy tale,
Then stab each one on thorny spike,
Cruel and vicious, Great Grey Shrike.
(Poem by Julia Johnson)
Six species of shrikes occur in Egypt, including the Great Grey Shrike, and I’ve spotted three of them in South Sinai. Like all shrikes (Lanius sp.), they feed on insects, lizards, small rodents and even birds. Using their sharp claws, they catch their prey and then impale the corpse on thorns, spikes, barbed wire fencing, or anything sharp that’s around. This has earned them a reputation of being “cruel and vicious”, as well as nicknames such as butcherbirds and jacky hangmen.
Impaling their prey helps the shrikes to hold it in place as they tear apart the flesh with their strong bills. It also serves as a way to save the food until a later time, acting like a larder.
Shrikes can often be spotted sitting on top of signs, bushes, fence posts – anywhere that gives them a good vantage point to look for prey.
Of the six species of shrikes in Egypt, only one – the Southern Grey Shrike – is a breeding bird here. The other five species – Great Grey Shrike (L. excubitor), Lesser Grey Shrike (L. minor), Red-backed Shrike (L. collurio), Woodchat Shrike (L. senator), and Masked Shrike (L. nubicus) – are migrants, passing through Egypt in spring and autumn.
It was late August, the start of the autumn migration season, that I spotted my first shrike. We were in Ras Mohamed National Park and there were dozens of shrikes perched on the bushes right next to the road, which made for easy bird-watching from the car. And I do love to watch birds! But I am not all that skilled at photographing them. (I prefer to have the macro lens on my camera.) When I can, I’ll try to snap a shot to help me identify the bird later for documentation purposes. My point is that, unfortunately, I won’t be sharing too many posts about birds and, even when I do, the photos won’t be my best. Lucky for us, many other photographers do take amazing shots of birds! Check out the links below for more information and images of birds in Egypt:
Porter, R. & Cottridge, D. (2001). A Photographic Guide to Birds of Egypt and the Middle East. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.