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Great Grey Shrike - BirdForum Opus

L. e. excubitor, adult
Photo by scottishdude
Spurn Point, England, October 2013
Lanius excubitor

Includes Steppe Grey Shrike


L. e. homeyeri, adult
Photo by Florian Andronache
Ploiesti, Romania, January 2013

Length 22-26 cm (8½-10¼ in), weight 50-80 g

  • Grey head and back
  • White belly, throat, flanks and chest (flanks often faintly barred pale grey in females)
  • Black wings with white patch at base of primaries
  • Medium-long tail, black with white outer feathers
  • Black mask on face extending to base of bill, but not over top of bill
  • Distinctive stout, hooked black bill


  • Similar to adult except duller and faintly barred, with dark grey where adult black, and slight pinkish base to bill.


L. e. lahtora
Photo by aloktewari
Gurgaon, Haryana, India; September 2015

Populations differ in color of both upper- and underside, extent of white on scapulars, wings and tail, size and shape of black mask and bill, and in presence vs absence of and if present in color of supercilium. See more in the taxonomy section.

Similar species

In Europe, Iberian Grey Shrike and Lesser Grey Shrike are potential confusion species, and in north-central Asia, could overlap with Northern Shrike.


Europe, Africa and Asia.
Breeds in most of Europe except the Iberian Peninsula but including Canary Islands, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Tenerife
Northern Africa: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt
Western Africa: Mauritania, Senegambia, Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon

L. e. pallidirostris
Photo by CJW
Isle of Man, July 2003

Eastern Africa: Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia
Middle East: Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Socotra, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia
Asia: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, northwesternmost China, northern Pakistan, northwestern India


Complex, and potentially liable to further revision[2]. A large number of subspecies were split as Southern Grey Shrike. One subspecies was left there but renamed to Iberian Grey Shrike, but most were returned to Great Grey Shrike for now. Populations from northeastern Asia and North America formerly included here have recently been split as Northern Shrike[1, 2]. Whether more splits are coming is an open question.


L. e. excubitor, first-winter
Photo by IanF
Coatham Wood, Longnewton, County Durham, UK, February 2012

This is a polytypic species consisting of 12 subspecies[1] (however, notice that not all resources agree on which subspecies are valid)

  • L. e. excubitor
  • Small white patch at base of primaries; minimal white above black mask
  • L. e. homeyeri
  • Balkan Peninsula to southern Ural Mountains and western Siberia
  • Large white patch at base of primaries; broader white band above black mask; overall slightly paler than L. e. excubitor
  • L. e. leucopterus:
  • L. e. koenigi:
  • Upperparts dark grey, underparts light grey; similar to L. m. algeriensis but slightly smaller
  • L. e. algeriensis:
  • Upperparts dark grey, underparts light grey
  • L. e. elegans:
  • North Sahara (Mauritania to Sinai Peninsula and Red Sea)
  • Upperparts light grey, underparts white
  • L. e. leucopygos:
  • Upperparts very light grey, rump and underparts white
  • L. e. aucheri:
  • Upperparts mid grey, underparts white
  • L. e. buryi:
'*Yemen; vagrant to Djibouti and Ethiopia
  • Darkest subspecies; very dark grey mantle, dusky grey below, supercilium and scapulars grey, not white
  • L. e. uncinatus:
  • Similar to L. m. aucheri but with less white on scapulars, and slightly longer bill
  • L. e. pallidirostris:
  • Breeds from southwestern Russia and northeastern Iran east to southern Mongolia, western China, southeastern Afghanistan, and southwestern Pakistan; partially migratory, south of northeastern Africa (to Sudan, northwestern Somalia), the Arabian Peninsula, and northwestern India
  • Upperparts light grey, rump and underparts white; extensive white in wings; black mask narrow; bill often pale-based even in some adults (though black in many adults)
  • L. e. lahtora:
  • East Pakistan and northern India
  • Upperparts mid grey, underparts white; similar to L. m. aucheri but more extensive white on secondary tips, and black mask extends across top of bill

A couple of these have common names attached to them: L. e. pallidirostris is Steppe Grey Shrike, and L. e. lahtora is Indian Grey Shrike. Steppe Grey Shrike has been split as a full species in the past and may become one again.


Open upland forests and bogs with scattered trees. In winter, heathland, and sometimes farmland.



Diet includes large insects, small mammals and birds and it often stores uneaten prey by impaling it on thorns. They commonly hunt from a very high perch usually a tall tree top.



A complex and variable medley of short liquid trills, whistles, chatter and harsh notes.


A harsh shek-shek, grating jaaeg, rapid rasping aak...aak, a sharp metallic beek.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Olsson, U. et al. (2009). The Lanius excubitor (Aves, Passeriformes) conundrum — Taxonomic dilemma when molecular and non-molecular data tell different stories. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 55: 347–357.
  3. Yosef, R., ISWG International Shrike Working Group, C. J. Sharpe, J. S. Marks, and G. M. Kirwan (2020). Great Gray Shrike (Lanius excubitor), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.norshr1.01

Recommended Citation

External Links

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