« AnteriorContinuar »
UITE unlike any other of our summer
migrants in appearance, the Red-backed Shrike, or Butcher-bird, as it is more frequently called, differs from them all in habits, and from the majority in having no song to recommend it to notice. It is a curious bird in its way, shy and retired in its disposition, and prefers tall tangled hedgerows or the thick foliage of the lower branches of the oak, where it can sit unobservedly and dart out upon its unsuspecting
prey. It is a very Hawk by nature, capturing and killing mice, small birds, moths and beetles of every size and description. These when caught are firmly impaled upon the long and strong points of the whitethorn for future consumption, and the odds and ends which may be found thus hung up, as it were, in the Butcherbird's larder are worth notice. On one thorn, perchance, a Blue Titmouse with its head off, on another a small meadow mouse (Arvicola agrestis), or perhaps a harvest mouse (Mus messorius), on a third a great dor-beetle or a cockchafer, not yet dead, but buzzing round and round upon the sharp thorn, and trying in vain to effect its escape, while above, below, and on all sides may be seen the wingless bodies of large moths, the fluttering forms of dragon-flies, or the remains of beetles.
From this singular habit the bird has earned the name of Butcher-bird, not only in England but in other countries. In France it is termed l'écorcheur, the flayer; in Germany it is known as der Würger (the strangler, or
garotter), and der Fleischer, or butcher, whence no doubt is derived “Flusher,” the provincial name by which it is known in some parts of England. The Linnæan name for the genus, Lanius, has the same signification.
The Red-backed Shrike arrives here somewhat later than most of the summer migrants, and is seldom observed before the first week in May. It is generally found in pairs until after the young are hatched and ready to fly, when the families keep together in little parties until the end of August or beginning of September, when they leave the country.
The note of the Red-backed Shrike resembles the syllables“ tst-tst,” or “ tsook—tsook,” loudly. uttered, and reminds one a little of the notes of the Whinchat and Stonechat. It has besides a harsh “kurr-r,” which it utters when any one approaches the nest, and as it fits from branch to branch, lowering the head, and slowly moving the tail up and down.
The male is decidedly a handsome bird. It has the head and neck grey, with a broad black
streak passing from the bill through the eye and ear coverts, the back reddish chestnut, chin white, under parts pale salmon colour, and the wings and tail black, the latter broadly marked with white at the base.
The hen bird is much plainer in appearance, being of a dull and somewhat mottled brown above, and buffy white beneath, with crescentic brown markings on the breast and flanks.
The bill in both is short and thick, the upper mandible hooked at the point and prominently notched or toothed, as in a hawk. The feet are strong, with sharp and curved claws, and well adapted for seizing and holding a struggling prey.
Both birds assist in the construction of the nest, which is a substantial well-built structure of twigs, dry grass, and moss, lined with fibrous roots and horsehair, and is usually placed at some height from the ground in the middle of a whitethorn bush, or thick hedgerow. The eggs, five and sometimes six in number, vary a good deal in colour, being yellowish or greyish
white with lilac or pale brown markings disposed in a zone at the larger end, or pale salmon colour, with dull red markings distributed in the same way.
The distribution of this bird in the British Islands is very partial, for it is unknown in Ireland, of rare occurrence in Scotland, and in England is found chiefly in the midland and southern counties. During the summer months it is generally dispersed throughout Europe and the temperate parts of Siberia, and as autumn approaches, it crosses the Mediterranean into Africa, where it travels down the east coast through Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia, to Natal, and on the west coast has been met with in Great Namaqua Land, Damara Land, and the Okavango region, where, according to Andersson, it breeds.?
Breeding in its winter quarters ? Well, that is the question. Can the birds which Andersson found nesting in South-west Africa in our
1 " The Birds of Damara Land,” p. 136.