Northern Shrike (Lanius excubitor)

Northern Shrike

[order] PASSERIFORMES | [family] Laniidae | [latin] Lanius excubitor | [UK] Northern Shrike | [FR] Pie-grieche grise | [DE] Raubwurger | [ES] Alcaudon Real | [NL] Klapekster


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range

Physical charateristics

The Northern Shrike has a light gray underside, and a darker gray back. Its wings are black with white patches, and its tail is black with white corners. It has a large bill that is hooked at the end, and a narrow, black mask across its face. The female is slightly browner with a less distinctive mask than that of the male. Young birds are almost totally brown. Their wings are dark, but when they are folded up on the perched bird, they can be difficult to see and use as a fieldmark. The juvenile also has a less obvious mask, a paler bill, and barred underparts.
Northern Shrikes need large territories and thus are found only in low densities. They hunt by watching from high perches, then flying swiftly down after prey. Shrikes use their hooked bills to break the necks of vertebrate prey. Because their feet are not large or strong enough to hold prey, shrikes find a crotch in a tree, a thorn, or barbed wire to hang their prey on while they eat. Prey may be left on such a site for later consumption. During courtship, males sing to defend their territories and attract mates.

Listen to the sound of Northern Shrike

[audio: Shrike.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 30 cm wingspan max.: 34 cm
size min.: 22 cm size max.: 26 cm
incubation min.: 15 days incubation max.: 17 days
fledging min.: 15 days fledging max.: 17 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 7  


North America, Eurasia : North


Found all across the Northern Hemisphere, Northern Shrikes breed in northern boreal forests in semi-open areas along streams or edges. They winter in open lowlands and prefer areas with tree and shrub cover


Both sexes probably help with nest building. The nest is usually located in a low tree or large shrub, 6-15 feet above the ground. The nest itself is a loose, bulky cup of twigs, grass, bark, and moss, lined with feathers and hair. The female incubates 4-7 eggs for 15-17 days. Both parents feed the young, which leave the nest at 19-20 days. The parents continue to feed and tend the young for another 3-4 weeks.

Feeding habits

Northern Shrikes eat mostly small vertebrates, especially voles and other rodents. They also eat small birds and large insects, and can kill prey as large as they are.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Lanius excubitor is a widespread breeder across much of Europe, which accounts for
less than a quarter of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is
large (>250,000 pairs), but underwent a moderate decline between 1970-1990.
Although the species was stable or increased across much of its European range during
1990-2000, many western and north-western populations-including its Spanish
stronghold-continued to decline, and the species probably underwent a slight decline
Many populations of Northern Shrikes around the world are in decline, and while there is no clear evidence of decline in North America, this species should be monitored carefully.
Northern Shrike status Least Concern


Resident and migratory. Extreme northern populations vacate breeding areas completely, and some southern populations apparently sedentary; other populations consist of long-distance migrants, short-distance migrants, and sedentary birds. Except in France, migrations of nominate excubitor stop short of range of Southern Grey Shrike; winters within breeding range, west to Britain, and south to northern coast of Mediterranean (no evidence for regular crossing) east to Turkey and Caucasus. Race homeyeri partly resident, also migratory, moving to north-west China, Kazakhstan, northern Iran, northern Caucasus, Crimea, and parts of Balkans; very rare vagrant to western Europe. Marked annual variations in numbers of birds migrating in northern populations probably result from annual differences in breeding success and summer survival. Numbers also fluctuate in wintering areas, some individuals making hard-weather movements.
Peak of autumn passage in northern Europe mainly in October. Peak of spring passage in March or April; arrival on northern breeding grounds mainly in April.

Distribution map

Northern Shrike distribution range map

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