Tim Melling – Brown Shrike

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Tim writes: despite being an adult male, this shrike is proving problematical to identify.  There seem to be three possibilities; Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus), Turkestan (Isabelline) Shrike (Lanius (isabellinus) phoenicuroides), or a hybrid between the two. Though very few hybrids involving Brown Shrike are known.  When I started birdwatching these were all treated as races of Red-backed Shrike.  But now there are four recognised races of Brown Shrike and four of Isabelline, and two of these are often treated as full species.

Now for the difficult bit.  Brown Shrike should ideally be uniform warm brown from the head to the rump, but this bird has a distinctly “colder” back colour contrasting with the warmer head and rump, more like Turkestan Shrike.  Though Brown Shrikes often have a gingery rump like this bird.  But an adult male Turkestan Shrike should show a white patch in the wing at the base of the primaries.  But this bird has plain wings.  Turkestan Shrike should have a very orange tail, appearing orange from above and below.  But this bird had only a slight warmth in its tail, and does not look orange from below.  I have photographs taken in dull light where the tail just looks brown. Brown Shrike has narrower tail feathers compared with Isabelline ( 6.5-9.5mm versus 9-11mm), and I thought the tail on this bird looked very narrow.  On balance, I think this is a Brown Shrike, but it does show a couple of conflicting features.

This bird spent several days at Johnny Brown’s Common near South Elmsall in West Yorkshire in late October.

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