The Iberian grey shrike. Peter Jones
The Iberian grey shrike
Andalusian bird watch

The Iberian grey shrike

The Andalucía Bird Society recommends looking out for the Lanius meridionalis this month

Peter Jones


Friday, 22 March 2024, 16:37


I think it is fair to say that in recent times taxonomists have been busy with the classification and renaming of what were formally subspecies of the great grey shrike, Lanius excubitor. During the process they have created an endemic for Iberia in the Iberian grey shrike, previously classified as a subspecies, Lanius excubitor meridionalis. After Extremadura (26%) there is in Andalucía the second largest population in Iberia at 21%, so hopefully most of us will be familiar with this handsome shrike.

In Andalucía it is a bird of open country and favours areas of pasture with scattered shrubs and trees, it also can be found in the open oak 'dehesa' woodlands. It is most common in Mediterranean areas of scrub and often observed in almond and olive groves as well as woodland edges, of course it also favours thorny scrub such as hawthorn. We associate all shrikes with hunting from prominent perches and their ability to impale prey on thorns or even barbed wire, where this prey can form a larder for the bird to take later. In fact, the genus name Lanius is derived from the Latin word for butcher and some shrikes are often referred to as butcher birds due to their feeding habits. And for the curious, the bird's specific epithet, meridionalis, is Latin for southern.

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It is a thrush-sized bird and will prey on large insects, small birds, and rodents. It has the habit of hunting prey from elevated perches and we most often see them as they perch on high wires, fences and tall bushes, their striking and beautiful markings are complimented by a subtle pink blush to their underside which separates them from other closely related shrikes. Certainly, these shrikes can be elusive and, together with their handsome appearance, it makes them a favourite to observe among birdwatchers.

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