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Lanius, the typical shrikes, are a genus of passerine birds in the shrike family. The majority of the family's species are placed in this genus. The genus name, Lanius, is derived from the Latin word for "butcher", and some shrikes are also known as "butcher birds" because of their feeding habits.[1] The common English name "shrike" is from Old English scríc, "shriek", referring to the shrill call.[2]

Lanius excubitor 1 (Marek Szczepanek).jpg
Great grey shrike (Lanius excubitor)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Laniidae
Genus: Lanius
Linnaeus, 1758
Type species
Lanius excubitor

Many, see text

African species are known as fiscals. That name comes from the Afrikaans word fiskaal ("public official", especially a hangman), because they hang their prey on thorns for storage.

Most Lanius species occur in Eurasia and Africa, but the great grey shrike has a circumpolar distribution, and the loggerhead shrike is confined to North America. There are no members of this genus or the shrike family in South America or Australia.

Lanius shrikes are birds of open habitats typically seen perched upright on a prominent perch like a treetop or a telegraph pole. They sally out for prey, taken in flight or the ground. These species primarily take large insects, but will also take small birds, reptiles and mammals. For large northern species such as the great grey, the majority of the prey will be vertebrates, especially in winter.

Despite their diet, these are not true birds of prey, and lack the strong talons of the raptors. Though they use their feet to hold smaller insects, larger prey items are impaled upon a sharp point, such as a thorn or the barbs of barbed wire. Thus secured they can be ripped open with the hooked bill.

Most Lanius shrikes are solitary, except when breeding and are highly territorial. Northern or temperate species such as the great grey and red-backed shrikes are migratory and winter well south of the breeding range.

The sexes of most species are distinguishable, the male invariably being the brighter bird where there is a difference.

There are some natural groupings within the genus, such as the seven African fiscals, the large grey species (ludovicianus, excubitor, meridionalis and sphenocercus) and the Eurasian brown-backed species (tigrinus, bucephalus, collurio, isabellinus, cristatus and gubernator). In the last group in particular, it has been difficult to define species’ boundaries, and in the past several of these shrikes have been lumped as conspecific.

The prehistoric shrike Lanius miocaenus has been described from Early Miocene fossils found at Langy, France.[3]

Taxonomy and systematicsEdit

Extant speciesEdit

The genus Lanius contains the following species:

Image Common Name Scientific name Distribution
  Tiger shrike Lanius tigrinus Russia, Japan and China
  Souza's shrike Lanius souzae Angola to Botswana, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia.
  Bull-headed shrike Lanius bucephalus north-east China, Korea, Japan and far-eastern Russia
  Brown shrike Lanius cristatus northern Asia from Mongolia to Siberia and in South Asia, Myanmar and the Malay Peninsula
  Red-backed shrike Lanius collurio Western Europe east to central Russia
  Isabelline shrike Lanius isabellinus India
  Red-tailed shrike Lanius phoenicuroides south Siberia and central Asia.
  Burmese shrike Lanius collurioides Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Emin's shrike Lanius gubernator Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Sudan, and Uganda
  Bay-backed shrike Lanius vittatus Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal and India
  Long-tailed shrike Lanius schach across Asia from Kazakhstan to New Guinea
  Grey-backed shrike Lanius tephronotus Bangladesh, India (Uttarakhand), Nepal, Bhutan, China (Yunnan).
  Mountain shrike Lanius validirostris Philippines.
  Mackinnon's shrike Lanius mackinnoni Western and Central Africa, its range including Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda
  Lesser grey shrike Lanius minor southern France, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Italy, the former Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and southern Russia
  Loggerhead shrike Lanius ludovicianus southern Canada, the contiguous USA and Mexico
  Great grey shrike Lanius excubitor Eurasia and northern Africa
  Northern shrike Lanius borealis North America and Siberia
  Iberian grey shrike Lanius meridionalis southern Europe
  Steppe grey shrike Lanius pallidirostris Central Asia and parts of northern China, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  Chinese grey shrike Lanius sphenocercus China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Mongolia, and Russia.
  Grey-backed fiscal Lanius excubitoroides Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.
  Long-tailed fiscal Lanius cabanisi southern Somalia, southern and south-eastern Kenya, from the shores of Lake Victoria to the coast; and northern and eastern Tanzania south to Dar es Salaam
  Taita fiscal Lanius dorsalis southeastern South Sudan, southern Ethiopia, and western Somalia to northeastern Tanzania
  Somali fiscal Lanius somalicus Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia in the Horn of Africa, as well as in Kenya in the African Great Lakes region
  Northern fiscal Lanius humeralis Sub-Saharan Africa.
  Southern fiscal Lanius collaris Sub-Saharan Africa
São Tomé fiscal Lanius newtoni São Tomé Island, São Tomé and Príncipe
  Woodchat shrike Lanius senator southern Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East
  Masked shrike Lanius nubicus southeastern Europe and at the eastern end of the Mediterranean

Former speciesEdit

Formerly, some authorities also considered the following species (or subspecies) as species within the genus Lanius:


  1. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 219. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  2. ^ "Shrike". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Lefranc, Norbert; Worfolk, Tim (1997). Shrikes. London, UK: Pica Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-4081-3505-1.
  4. ^ "Coracornis sanghirensis - Avibase". Retrieved 2017-01-29.
  5. ^ Australia, Atlas of Living. "Pachycephala (Alisterornis) rufiventris rufiventris | Atlas of Living Australia". Retrieved 2017-02-06.
  6. ^ "Pitohui kirhocephalus - Avibase". Retrieved 2017-01-30.
  7. ^ "Pycnonotus jocosus - Avibase". Retrieved 2017-03-12.
  8. ^ "Alophoixus bres - Avibase". Retrieved 2017-05-15.