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Masked shrike (Lanius nubicus)
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Masked shrike fact file
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Masked shrike description
A small and slender species with striking and distinctive colouration, the masked shrike (Lanius nubicus) is also distinguished by its small, powerful hooked bill and very long, narrow tail. In the adult male masked shrike, a prominent white band extends from the forehead to behind the eye, contrasting with the glossy black crown, neck, upperparts and upperwings. The scapulars, or shoulder feathers, are white, while the primaries have large white patches at the base which are conspicuous in flight (2). The throat, neck and underparts are also white, with vibrant orange on the breast and flanks. The bill is black, the legs are dark brown to black and the iris is blackish-brown (2) (3).
The female masked shrike is similarly marked but is much duller in colour (2) (3), being dark grey to brownish or dull black on the head and upperparts, and much less intense orange below (2). Juveniles are paler than the adults, appearing grey-brown above and off-white below, heavily patterned with wavy, irregular lines and lacking the contrasting head pattern (2).
- Pie-grièche masqué.
Masked shrike biology
The masked shrike feeds mainly on insects, particularly crickets, grasshoppers and beetles, although it will also sometimes take other arthropods and small vertebrates. The masked shrike forages using a ‘sit and wait’ strategy, taking up a hunting perch on the branch of a bush or tree, around three to eight metres above the ground. Prey is usually captured on the ground, although it will occasionally catch insects in flight or glean items from foliage. This species often displays a somewhat unusual behaviour once prey has been caught, impaling its food on thorns or barbed wire, or hanging it from the fork of a branch to store it for later (2) (4).
The courtship display of the masked shrike is similar to many other shrike species in the genus Lanius and is typically accompanied by wing-shivering, tail-spreading and various head movements. It is likely that the masked shrike also displays courtship feeding behaviour, where the female is brought food by a courting male (4). Depending on the location, the masked shrike begins breeding between early April and mid-June, when three to seven creamy, pale-buff or yellowish eggs are laid. The masked shrike is a territorial breeder, defending small areas around the nest throughout the breeding season (2). The nest is a small, open cup built by both sexes (2) (4), which is placed in the fork of a tree, typically 1 to 12 metres above the ground (2). It is constructed of rootlets, twigs and plant matter, and lined with wool, hair or man-made materials. It is usually covered on the outside with lichen. The eggs are incubated by the female for around 14 to 16 days. Following hatching, both adults feed the chicks over a period of 18 to 20 days before they fledge, and the chicks remain dependent on the adult birds for 3 to 4 weeks after leaving the nest (2) (4). The masked shrike is monogamous, and a pair will often raise two broods in the same year (2).
The masked shrike is a migratory bird, typically leaving the breeding grounds between August and September. The birds arrive at the wintering grounds between September and November, and begin the spring migration back to the breeding grounds from February onwards (2). Although normally a solitary species, the masked shrike often congregates at resting sites in groups of up to around 100 birds during migration (2) (4).Top
Masked shrike range
The masked shrike occurs throughout the Balkan Peninsula and Turkey, south to countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea, including Cyprus and the northernmost parts of the Arabian Peninsula, northern Iraq and western Iran. Non-breeding populations of the masked shrike occur in sub-Saharan Africa and the Arabian Peninsula (2).Top
Masked shrike habitat
The masked shrike nests in various types of forest, including deciduous or coniferous forests and areas of dense evergreen shrubs known as ‘maquis’ (2). In the Middle East, the masked shrike is known to regularly occur in open pine and oak forests (4). It is often associated with big, isolated trees and tends to avoid very open areas and human habitation, although it is frequently observed around cultivated land containing citrus and olive groves, orchards or riverine poplar plantations. The masked shrike is generally found in lowlands and hills below elevations of 1,000 metres (2) (5).Top
Masked shrike status
The masked shrike is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).Top
Masked shrike threats
Although not currently considered to be globally threatened (1) (2), the masked shrike is declining throughout parts of its European range. Degradation of the masked shrike’s favoured habitats is considered to be the main reason for the current population decline, particularly in Greece and Turkey; however, numbers do appear to be increasing in Bulgaria (2).
It is possible that the masked shrike is targeted by hunters during its annual migration, with reported shootings in Turkey, the Middle East and Africa. This species is also considered bad luck in Greece and Syria, where it may be persecuted on its breeding grounds, although to what extent this affects the wider population is unknown (2).Top
Masked shrike conservation
The masked shrike is currently given low levels of protection through its listing on Annex I of the EU Birds Directive (6) and Annex II of the Bern Convention on European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (7). There are no other known conservation measures in place for this species, although it is increasingly occupying plantations grown in place of natural woodland, suggesting that it may be able to survive in areas where its usual habitat has been destroyed. This ability may well be of long-term benefit to the masked shrike in the future (2).Top
Find out more
To find out more about the masked shrike and other bird species, see:
To find out more about conservation being done on the Arabian Peninsula, see:
Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi:
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:
- A very diverse phylum (a major grouping of animals) that includes crustaceans, insects and arachnids. All arthropods have paired jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton (exoskeleton).
- Deciduous forest
- Forest consisting mainly of deciduous trees, which shed their leaves at the end of the growing season.
- Evergreen forest
- Forest consisting mainly of evergreen trees, which retain leaves all year round. This is in contrast to deciduous trees, which completely lose their leaves for part of the year.
- A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
- In birds, the main flight feathers projecting along the outer edge of the wing.
- An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
IUCN Red List (January, 2010)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D.A. (1997) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 13: Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
- Barthel, P.H. and Dougalis, P. (2008) New Holland European Bird Guide. New Holland Publishers, London.
- Perrins, C. (2009) Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Moskát, C. and Fuisz, T.I. (2002) Habitat segregation among the woodchat shrike, Lanius senator, the red-backed shrike, Lanius collurio, and the masked shrike, Lanius nubicus, in NE Greece. Folia Zoologica, 51(2): 103-111.
EC Birds Directive (January, 2011)
Council of Europe: Bern Convention (January, 2011)
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