Lanius

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Lanius
Lanius excubitor 1 (Marek Szczepanek).jpg
Great grey shrike
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Laniidae
Genus: Lanius
Linnaeus, 1758
species

Many, see text

Lanius, the typical shrikes, are a genus of passerine birds in the shrike family. The majority of the family's species are placed in this genus. African species are known as fiscals. That name comes from the Afrikaans word fiskaal ("public official", especially a hangman), because they hang their prey on thorns for storage.

Most Lanius species occur in Eurasia and Africa, but the great grey shrike has a circumpolar distribution, and the loggerhead shrike is confined to North America. There are no members of this genus or the shrike family in South America or Australia.

Lanius shrikes are birds of open habitats typically seen perched upright on a prominent perch like a treetop or a telegraph pole. They sally out for prey, taken in flight or the ground. These species primarily take large insects, but will also take small birds, reptiles and mammals. For large northern species such as the great grey, the majority of the prey will be vertebrates, especially in winter.

Despite their diet, these are not true birds of prey, and lack the strong talons of the raptors. Though they use their feet to hold smaller insects, larger prey items are impaled upon a sharp point, such as a thorn or the barbs of barbed wire. Thus secured they can be ripped open with the hooked bill.

Most Lanius shrikes are solitary, except when breeding and are highly territorial. Northern or temperate species such as the great grey and red-backed shrikes are migratory and winter well south of the breeding range.

The sexes of most species are distinguishable, the male invariably being the brighter bird where there is a difference.

There are some natural groupings within the genus, such as the seven African fiscals, the large grey species (ludovicianus, excubitor, meridionalis and sphenocercus) and the Eurasian brown-backed species (tigrinus, bucephalus, collurio, isabellinus, cristatus and gubernator). In the last group in particular, it has been difficult to define species’ boundaries, and in the past several of these shrikes have been lumped as conspecific.

The prehistoric shrike Lanius miocaenus has been described from Early Miocene fossils found at Langy, France, though its placement in this genus is not universally accepted due to its great age.[citation needed]

Species in taxonomic order[edit]

References[edit]