South Africa has 21 regularly occurring shrike species; including 3 skulking Tchagras, 6 colourful Bush-shrikes and 2 vociferous hoodlum Helmet-shrikes.
The boldest of them all have got to be the Bush-Shrikes; characterized by bright yellow and green plumage. Typically singly or in pairs, their skulking manner can make Bush-shrikes often surprisingly hard to find; and I think we would see them a whole lot less if it weren’t for their characteristic (often loud) calls.
The Helmet-Shrikes are the gangsters of the African savanna – they roam in groups and good luck to any Pearl-spotted Owl that is brave enough to make a peep in their near. In fact, this is a great trick to see if there are any Helmet-Shrikes in the area; just whistle the call of a Pearl-spotted Owl and if there are any within whistling distance, they will be at you within seconds.
The craziest thing about the Helmet-Shrikes is something I once noticed while ringing a mixed group of White-crested Helmet-Shrikes and Retz’s (Redbilled) Helmet-Shrikes – they have feathers growing right out of their bills. Not just at the base of the bill, but right out of the hard, horny black part. Completely unexpected. And yes, with those hooked bills, they bite like savages.
Okay, so for ease of use, lets call the other shrikes “normal shrikes”. There are tons of different species in southern Africa, many of which are resident; some of which we know from Europe (Lesser Grey Shrike, Red-backed Shrike).
I’m looking forward to getting back to South Africa and seeing some of these shrikes again…
All shrikes digiscoped with a Swarovski spotting scope and various compact and DSLR cameras
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