Bay-backed shrike (Lanius vittatus)

Also known as: Indian bay-backed shrike
GenusLanius (1)
SizeLength: 17 -19 cm (2)
Weight18 - 26 cm (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1)

A strikingly coloured, delicately built and fine-billed shrike, the bay-backed shrike is a beautiful bird of South Asia (3). The most distinctive feature of this bird is the black facial mask extending from the side of the neck through the eyes to the base of the hooked bill, that sits in stark contrast to the grey crown and shoulders and chestnut-maroon upperparts (2) (4) (5). The upper-wings and long, white-tipped tail are black, and the underparts of the body are whitish with a wash of brown (2). The bill and legs are black, and a large white patch sits on the primary wing feathers (2) (3). The male and female bay-backed shrike are similar in appearance, but the juvenile has a less extensive, more brown facial mask, brownish upperparts, a barred black and creamy-brown crown, a reddish-brown tail, and barred underparts (2). This curious bird may also be identified by its rather quiet, pleasant warbling song that is mixed with harsher ‘churring’ notes and much mimicry of other birds calls (2) (3).  

The bay-backed shrike occurs in South Asia, ranging from south-east Turkmenistan, south-east Iran and Qatar, through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India and southern Nepal. It is also an occasional visitor to Bhutan, Oman and the Untied Arab Emirates (2) (6).

A bird of open country and cultivation, the bay-backed shrike inhabits dry, bushy areas with scattered trees or at the edge of woodland (2) (5). In the northern and western parts of its range, it is typically found in semi-desert areas and on dry rocky slopes in valleys and foothills, often around cultivated plains and pistachio woodlands. In the southern parts of its range, the bay-backed shrike occurs in a greater variety of habitats, including thorny jungle, plantations along canal banks, and in cultivated areas around villages, gardens and parks. It is usually found at altitudes below 2,000 metres, but has been observed as high as almost 4,000 metres in Nepal (2).    

Flying low and fast between perches, the bay-backed shrike alights upon an exposed branch of a bush or an electricity wire, from which its watches for its insect prey (3). After spotting its target, it swoops down onto the prey and catches it on the ground. Its diet consists almost exclusively of insects, but small lizards and even mice may also be taken in this way. Usually, the bay-backed shrike feeds alone or in pairs, but it is always bold and conspicuous when feeding, and during times of abundant prey, it may store its food for periods when food is scarce (2). 

The timing of breeding varies with location, but in northern India, the monogamous bay-backed shrike breeds between April and July. The nest is a small, neat cup built from grass, feathers, wool and other fibres and lined with grass (2). It is placed in a fork of a small tree or a large bush, up to ten metres above the ground, and a territory is defended around this nesting site as well as around favoured perches (2) (5). A clutch of three to five, usually four, eggs is laid, and incubated by the female for 14 to 15 days, whilst the male brings the female food. The male also supplies all of the food for the young nestlings once they have hatched, and they are tended to for around 14 to 15 days before they fledge. The bay-backed shrike may produce two broods each breeding season (2).     

Although the population size of the bay-backed shrike is currently unknown, it is thought to be relatively large, and in the absence of any known major threats, the species is not currently threatened with extinction (6). It is thought to be fairly common in India and Nepal, and probably also Iran, although information on the species there is scant (2). It has, however, been observed to be less abundant in the southern parts of its range (6).

While the bay-backed shrike has not been the target of any known specific conservation measures, it occurs in a number of protected areas, including the Genu Protected Area in Iran (2) (6).

To find out more about the conservation of birds, see:

For more information on conservation in the United Arab Emirates, see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2010)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2009) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 14: Bush-Shrikes to Old World Sparrows. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Grewal, B., Harvey, B. and Pfister, O. (2003) A Photographic Guide to the Birds of India: and the Indian Subcontinent, Including Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
  4. Shrestha, T.K. (2001) Birds of Nepal: Field Ecology, Natural History and Conservation. Bimala Shrestha, Kathmandu, Nepal.
  5. Whistler, H. (2007) Popular Handbook of Indian Birds. Gurney and Jackson, London.
  6. BirdLife International (September, 2010)