This 16–18 cm (approx. 6.3–7.1 inches) long migratory bird eats large insects, small birds, frogs, rodents and lizards. Like other shrikes it hunts from prominent perches, and impales corpses on thorns or barbed wire as a "larder." This practice has earned it the nickname of "butcher bird."
The general colour of the male’s upper parts is reddish. It has a grey head and a typical shrike black stripe through the eye. Underparts are tinged pink, and the tail has a black and white pattern similar to that of a wheatear. In the female and young birds the upperparts are brown and vermiculated. Underparts are buff and also vermiculated.
Distribution and habitat
This bird breeds in most of Europe and western Asia and winters in tropical Africa. The bird is listed as a "least concern" (LC) species on a global scale, but some parts of its range have seen a steep decline in numbers, so locally its status can be less secure.
Once a common migratory visitor to Great Britain, numbers declined sharply during the 20th century. The bird's last stronghold was in Breckland but by 1988 just a single pair remained, successfully raising young at Santon Downham. The following year for the first time no nests were recorded in the UK. But since then sporadic breeding has taken place, mostly in Scotland and Wales. In September 2010 the RSPB announced that a pair had raised chicks at a secret location on Dartmoor where the bird last bred in 1970. In 2011, two pairs nested in the same locality, fledging seven young. In 2012 there was another breeding attempt, this time unsuccessful, probably due to a prolonged spell of wet weather. In 2013 breeding was again confirmed in Devon, with two young fledged at a new site. This return to south western England has been an unexpected development and has raised speculation that a warming climate could assist the bird in re-colonising some of its former haunts, if only in small numbers.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Lanius collurio". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- ""Butcher bird" nests in England after 18 year absence". RSPB. Retrieved on 10 September 2010
- "Red-backed Shrike breeds on Dartmoor". Birdwatch magazine. Retrieved 30 December 2011
- "Red-backed Shrike". The Devon Birdwatching and Preservation Society. Retrieved 15 August 2013
- "England's only nesting "butcher birds" successful on Dartmoor". RSPB. Retrieved on 10 March 2014
- "Mark Avery's blog: Shrikes.". RSPB. Retrieved on 30 December 2011
- Worfolk, Tim (2000) Identification of red-backed, isabelline and brown shrikes Dutch Birding 22 (6): 323-362.
- Metzmacher, M. & Van Nieuwenhuyse, D. (2012) Population dynamics of red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio) in south-eastern Belgium: modelling of climate influence. Terre et Vie, 67: 353-374.
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