RED BACKED SHRIKE (Lanius collurio)


The red backed shrike is a very rare bird that is seen passing through the western coasts of the UK between May and June. They were essentially lost as a breeding species in the 1990s and breeding numbers are still incredibly low. They usually perch on bushes or fence posts in mosaic-like habitats that include low-growth grasses and higher-growth shrubs and bushes, often found around farmland. They are known for impaling their prey on thorns or wedged into gaps. They spend their winter in East Africa.

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Estimated number of breeding pairs: 3

Listen to Red Backed Shrike song:


Red backed shrikes are slightly larger than house sparrows. Males have a chestnut brown back and black feathers on the tips of their wings. Their head is grey with a characteristic black mask across their eyes. Their underparts are pale pink with a white/pale grey undertail. Females are somewhat similar to males but paler, with brown upper parts and wings, slightly yellow underwing, and white belly. The nape is a grey colour while the head is mostly brown with no mask. The bill of both the males and females curves noticeably at the end.

Average Length: 17 cm

Average Lifespan: 3 - 5 Years

Average Wingspan: 24 - 27 cm

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Red Backed Shrike diet

Red Backed Shrikes are opportunistic feeders and have a broad diet mainly consisting of invertebrates, but also including small mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles.

Red backed shrike breeding and nesting information

These birds breed between May and June, their nest is built in dense hedgerows such as hawthorn and is rather untidy, consisting of green plant stems, roots, and grasses, lined with hair, moss, and fur. 3-8 eggs are laid in the nest and incubated mainly by the female for 13-16 days before hatching. The hatchlings are naked and so brooded for a further week by the female while the male feeds them. After that both parents feed them. After another 2 weeks, they fledge and are looked after for 2 weeks until they can feed themselves. Adults are able to produce two broods before the breeding season ends.

Threats to red backed shrikes

Once a common breeding bird in the UK, red backed shrikes have undergone significant declines. In the UK the declines are thought to be driven by intensification of agriculture which has led to a reduction in available prey and loss of suitable scrubby habitat. Afforestation has also led to a decrease in suitable habitat which highlights the importance of taking a wide view when undertaking conservation action. Warmer summer temperatures are thought to improve breeding success, however, the effect of extreme heatwaves caused by climate change are unknown.  Climate-driven droughts in their overwintering grounds could reduce the available prey in these areas and negatively impact the population.

How you can help

Create an insect-friendly garden by not using harsh chemicals in your garden and planting wildflowers.

If you see a red backed shrike breeding, do not report it publicly and read the guidance on the rare breeding birds panel website for how best to make a report.

Petition local areas to protect areas of scrubby habitat.

Fascinating Fact

Red backed Shrikes (and other shrikes) are often known as butcherbirds due to their habit of impaling their prey onto thorns or barbed wire.
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Brambilla, M., Rubolini, D., & Guidali, F. (2007). Between land abandonment and agricultural intensification: Habitat preferences of Red-backed Shrikes Lanius collurio in low-intensity farming conditions. Bird Study. 54(2): 160–167.

British Trust for Ornithology (no date) Red-backed Shrike | BTO - British Trust for Ornithology. Available at: Accessed: 18/9/2023.

BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Lanius collurio. Downloaded from Accessed: 18/9/2023.

RSPB (no date) Red backed shrike bird facts: Lanius collurio, The RSPB. Available at: Accessed: 18/9/2023.

Søgaard Jørgensen, P., Tøttrup, A. P., Rahbek, C., & Geertsma, M. (2013). Effects of summer weather on reproductive success of the Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio). Bird Study. 60(1): 1–10.

Tryjanowski, P., Karg, M. K., & Karg, J. (2003). Diet composition and prey choice by the red-backed shrike Lanius collurio in western Poland. Belgian Journal of Zoology. 133(2): 157-162.

Woodward,I., Aebischer, N., Burnell, D., Eaton, M., Frost, T., Hall, C., Stroud, D.A.& Noble, D. (2020). Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and theUnited Kingdom. British Birds. 113: 69–104.

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