Newsletter – 7/21/11
The common names of many Australian birds reflect their apparent similarity to European birds, even if they are not closely related, for example Robins, Wrens of various sorts (Fairywrens, Scrubwrens) and Treecreepers. Some names are hybrid, such as Cuckoo-shrike, Shrike-thrush and Shrike-tit, meaning ‘looking like something between the two types’. That’s fine for Europeans and well-travelled birders who know what theses things look like, but some, particularly real shrikes, are almost complete unknown in Australia and the use of these names as qualifiers is of questionable value for the locals. So, I though it might be interesting to have a look at a real shrike and throw some light on the use of its name in Australian birds.
Shrikes, family Laniidae 33 species, are widespread through Eurasia and Africa; a couple of species occur in North America but they are unknown in South America. Two Asian Shrikes, the Tiger and the Brown , have made it to the Australian list as rare vagrants to Christmas Island, though the first Australian record of a Tiger Shrike was a road-killed one found near the port of Fremantle in Western Australia, raising the possibility of being ship-assisted (a black mark for a ‘real’ vagrant). The bird in the these two photographs was photographed in Malaysia.
You’ll notice the hooked bill, characteristic of all Shrikes, and an adaption to their predatory way of life. Shrikes capture both invertebrates and – unusually for song-birds – small vertebrates up to the size of small mammals and birds by waiting on a conspicuous perch for something to come within striking distance. They often store their prey on shrubs or impale them on thorns. Shrikes are small for raptors: the Tiger Shrike is 18cm/7in in length and the larger ones such as the Great Grey/Northern and Long-tailed reach only 26cm/10in and 28cm/11in, and a lot of that is tail.
So, for Australian bird names, read ‘hook-billed’ for ‘shrike’. The resemblance is mainly physical: Cuckoo-shrikes and Shrike-thrushes forage for insects and other invertebrates in the foliage of trees and the bills of Shrike-tits are adapted to prising open the bark of trees in search of invertebrates. For behavioural similarities, the also hook-billed Butcherbirds fit the bill, pun unintended but appropriate, as they also prey on small vertebrates and use bushes as larders. It’s a wonder that they didn’t get called Magpie-shrikes. Now, ‘magpie’, there’s another over-used name . . .
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Phone: 0411 602 737 +61-411 602 737
Preferred Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Another nice lesson from Ian about the birds of Australia and beyond. Also, more neat photos, this time of the Tiger Shrike. Thanks again, Ian, for helping us see and know about your birds “down under.” As he said, the Tiger Shrike is part of the Laniidae Family of the Passeriformes Order.
And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. (Mark 4:7 KJV)