South African Shrikes

Post image for South African Shrikes

by DaleForbes on April 10, 2011 · 5 comments

in Birding Africa

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.

Bokmakierie (Telophorus zeylonus) - a southern African endemic bush-shrike named after its characteristic "bok bok kie" call

Grey-headed Bush-Shrike (Malaconotus blanchoti). The Afrikaans call it "Spookvoël" or ghost bird because of its eerie, ventroloquistic hooting and tendancy to remain well hidden and hard to find

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.

White-crested Helmet-shrike (Prionops plumatus)

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).

African Longtailed (Magpie) Shrike (Corvinella melanoleuca) - look at that tail ! the title image is also a Magpie Shrike

the beautiful Southern White-crowned Shrike (Eurocephalus anguitimens)

Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio), a common summer visitor to the savannas (that being the Austral Summer)

Crimson-breasted Shrike (Laniarius atrococcineus). aaah, bright. need I say more.

Common Fiscal aka Fiscal Shrike (Lanius collaris), probably the most common shrike in South Africa

this is not a shrike at all, but just on a mission to pass itself off as a Fiscal Shrike. It is in fact the endemic Fiscal Flycatcher (Sigelus silens)

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

Happy birding,


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca Armstrong April 13, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Love that Grey-headed Bush-shrike pic!


Scott April 21, 2011 at 3:28 am

Great shots, I liked the blurred background in the Southern White-crowned Shrike picture.


Bryanlearmond April 28, 2011 at 10:28 am

I have just seen a shrike in my garden. It was a Lesser Grey but with a bright yellow chest. Could this be a Bush shrike?
Bryan, Western Isles of Scotland.


Meyland June 16, 2012 at 8:19 am

Can some one please help me identify these birds? My husband took these photos in Botswana (Okavanga Delta)


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