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Woodchat shrike

Lanius senator

Photo: Woodchat shrike
Animal description
The Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator) is a striking and fascinating bird species that belongs to the family Laniidae, which is known for its predatory habits and distinctive appearance. This bird is a medium-sized shrike, typically measuring between 16 to 18 centimeters in length and weighing approximately 25 to 34 grams. It exhibits a robust build with a relatively large head, a strong, hooked beak adapted for hunting, and a long tail that is often seen fanned out during display behaviors.

One of the most distinctive features of the Woodchat Shrike is its vivid plumage. The male of the species boasts a striking color pattern with a deep rufous or chestnut crown and nape, contrasting sharply with its black mask that extends across the eyes and forehead, reminiscent of a bandit's disguise. The upper parts of the bird are primarily a sleek gray, while the underparts are a clean white. The wings are black with a prominent white patch, and the tail is black with white outer feathers, features that become particularly noticeable in flight. Females and juveniles are somewhat duller in comparison, with more muted tones and less distinct mask patterns.

The Woodchat Shrike is a migratory bird, breeding in the warmer climates of southern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, and spending the winter months in sub-Saharan Africa. It prefers a habitat of open woodlands, orchards, and farmland with scattered trees, where it can hunt from perches. The species is known for its unique hunting technique; it impales its prey, which includes insects, small birds, and lizards, on thorns or barbed wire. This gruesome behavior has earned members of the shrike family the nickname of "butcher birds."

In terms of behavior, the Woodchat Shrike is a solitary and territorial bird, especially during the breeding season. It is known for its loud and varied vocalizations, which include a mix of melodious and harsh sounds, and it uses these calls both to attract mates and to defend its territory. The nest is typically built in a tree or a large bush and is constructed by both male and female. The female lays between 4 to 6 eggs, which she incubates for about two weeks until they hatch. Both parents are involved in feeding the chicks, which fledge approximately three weeks after hatching.

Despite its beauty and intriguing behaviors, the Woodchat Shrike faces threats from habitat loss and degradation, particularly due to agricultural intensification and urbanization. While currently listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), its populations are believed to be declining in parts of its range. Conservation efforts aimed at preserving suitable habitats and mitigating the impact of pesticides are crucial for ensuring the future of this fascinating bird species.
Map of occurrence
Photo: Woodchat shrike - occurrence
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