red-backed shrike the butcher bird
red backed shrike
When I was a young lad pouring over my early bird books, there were a few that stood out. The birds with exotic plumage, owls and raptors were amongst my favourite characters. One though was small and fierce and gruesome, all the best traits according to a small boy' the 'butcher bird'!
The red-backed shrike used to be a widespread summer visitor to the south of England but a decline throughout the 20th century meant that by the time I first picked up a pair of binoculars it was long gone as a breeding species and only an occasional vagrant.
When a stunning little male red-back shrike arrived at Sutton Park not far from home it seemed like fate that I should pay him a visit.
Shrikes get their nickname butcher bird from their habit of impaling prey on thorns. This one ate mostly bees but had also been seen catching mice, lizards and even chasing small birds. The shrike uses the thorns to hold the prey while butchering it, once the choice bits are consumed the remains are left as a macabre display.