Wednesday 15 May
Rufous-tailed shrike (Lanius isabellinus)
- As its name suggests, the rufous-tailed shrike is most easily recognised by its reddish-brown, or rufous, tail.
- The rufous-tailed shrike has a characteristic dark facial ‘mask’ which is more distinct in the male than the female.
Rufous-tailed shrike fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Rufous-tailed shrike description
A medium-sized shrike species, the rufous-tailed shrike (Lanius isabellinus) is named for its characteristic reddish-brown rump and tail, which contrast with its otherwise pale buff-brown upperparts. The underparts of the body are sandy-buff to white, with a pink tinge, and there is sometimes a small white or cream patch on the wings (3) (4).
Like other shrikes in the genus Lanius, the rufous-tailed shrike has a relatively large head and a dark ‘mask’ on the face, which in the male rufous-tailed shrike varies from brownish to black. The male also has a pale stripe above the eye, and may sometimes have a reddish-brown crown (3) (4). The rufous-tailed shrike’s bill is short, thick and black, with a small hook on the upper mandible (3) (4), and the legs and feet are also black (3).
The male and female rufous-tailed shrike are quite similar in appearance, but the female is duller, with a smaller face mask, a reduced or absent pale wing patch, and slight barring on the underparts. Juvenile rufous-tailed shrikes resemble the adult female, but have barring on both the upperparts and underparts (3) (4).
Four subspecies of rufous-tailed shrike are generally recognised, which vary in size and colouration. Of these, Lanius isabellinus isabellinus has particularly pale plumage, while Lanius isabellinus phoenicuroides is much more contrasting, with a strongly reddish-brown rump and tail, a large black facial mask, a more distinct white wing patch and sometimes a reddish-brown crown. The rufous-tailed shrike is generally paler and plainer than other shrikes (3) (4), but can be difficult to tell apart from other species, particularly as hybrids are common (3).
The song of the rufous-tailed shrike is a continuous quiet, varied warble containing a medley of harsher and squeakier sounds, as well as mimicry of other species. The rufous-tailed shrike also gives a variety of harsh calls (3).
- Also known as
- Central Asian shrike, Chinese shrike, Daurian shrike, isabelline shrike, pale-brown shrike, red-tailed shrike, rufous shrike, steppe shrike, Turkestan red-tailed shrike, Turkestan rufous-tailed shrike, Turkestan shrike.
- Pie-grièche isabelle. Top
BirdLife International - Rufous-tailed shrike:
- Brood parasite
- An animal that lays its eggs in the nests of members of its own or other species; the host then raises the young as its own.
- 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.
- The offspring produced by parents of two different species or subspecies.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- In birds, the lower jaw and beak, but the term is also used to denote the two parts of the beak.
- Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
- A vast grassland plain, characterised by few trees and low rainfall.
- A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
- Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.
- An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
- Animals with a backbone, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
IUCN Red List (September, 2012)
- Snow, D.W. and Perrins, C.M. (1998) The Birds of the Western Palearctic: Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Harris, T. and Franklin, K. (2000) Shrikes & Bush-shrikes. Including Wood-shrikes, Helmet-shrikes, Shrike Flycatchers, Philentomas, Batises and Wattle-eyes. A&C Black Publishers, London.
- Lefranc, N. and Worfolk, T. (2010) Shrikes: A Guide to the Shrikes of the World. A&C Black Publishers, London.
- Sibley, C.G. and Monroe Jr, B.L. (1990) Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.
BirdLife International (September, 2012)
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
Rufous-tailed shrike biology
Like other shrikes, the rufous-tailed shrike is rather raptor-like in its behaviour, using its strong, hooked bill to kill prey, and often grasping its victim with its feet. Lanius species are also well known for their habit of impaling prey on spikes or thorns, with the name ‘Lanius’ coming from the Latin for ‘butcher’ and giving these birds the alternative name of ‘butcher-birds’ (3) (4).
The rufous-tailed shrike feeds mainly on insects and small vertebrates, including rodents, lizards and birds (3) (4), and like other shrikes it may be able to consume noxious insects without ill effect (3). This species typically hunts from a prominent perch, scanning the surrounding area for potential prey before flying down to capture its victim. It may also sometimes take prey from low bushes or trees, or even capture it in the air (3).
The male rufous-tailed shrike is territorial, although the territories of different individuals tend to overlap. Like other shrikes, the rufous-tailed shrike is likely to be monogamous (3). The breeding season of this species varies between locations and between different subspecies, but generally runs from about April to June (3) (4).
The nest site is usually chosen by the male rufous-tailed shrike, and the male attempts to attract the female to potential sites by singing and displaying. The nest is typically built a couple of metres above the ground in a thorny bush, or sometimes in a tree or among reeds (3) (4). Both sexes help build the nest, which consists of a deep cup of twigs, bark, leaves, roots, grass, wool and feathers (3).
The rufous-tailed shrike may lay between three and eight eggs, although four to six is more common. The eggs are incubated by the female for 13 to 17 days (3) (4), while the male brings food to the nest (3). The young rufous-tailed shrikes leave the nest at about 12 to 16 days old, and are fed by both adults for a further month (3). Although the rufous-tailed shrike usually raises only a single brood each year, the subspecies L. i. isabellinus is thought to potentially raise a second. The nests of this shrike are sometimes parasitised by the common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) (3) (4).Top
Rufous-tailed shrike range
A migratory species, the rufous-tailed shrike moves south to spend the winter in parts of Africa, just south of the Sahara, as well as in the southern Arabian Peninsula, and from Iraq and Iran east to northern India (3) (4) (5). The rufous-tailed shrike is also occasionally recorded outside of its normal range in parts of Western Europe (3) (6).Top
Rufous-tailed shrike habitat
The rufous-tailed shrike occurs in a range of habitats, but is usually found in open country with scattered bushes, in semi-deserts, dry steppes and dry mountainous regions. It also occurs in cultivated areas, woodland, parks, and sometimes river valleys and marshy areas (3) (4).
This species has been recorded at elevations from sea level to around 3,500 metres (3).Top
Rufous-tailed shrike status
The rufous-tailed shrike is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).Top
Rufous-tailed shrike threats
The rufous-tailed shrike has an extremely large range and its population is believed to be stable. It is therefore not currently considered to be at risk of extinction (6).
There are not known to be any major threats to the rufous-tailed shrike at present.Top
Rufous-tailed shrike conservation
There are no specific conservation measures currently known to be in place for the rufous-tailed shrike.Top
Find out more
Find out more about the rufous-tailed shrike and its conservation:
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:
More »Related species
Play the Team WILD game
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.