basic information

Great Grey Shrike

Lanius excubitor (Linnaeus, 1758)

Серый сорокопут | Үлкен тағанақ

Big Almaty Lake
© Askar Isabekov


On adult male of the Great Grey Shrike the crown, mantle and uppertail are grey (from pale-grey to brownish-grey). The black mask extends from the bill base across the eyes to ear coverts. The flight feathers are black but some of them have white bases forming large or little or divided on two parts speculum. The tail feathers are black with white terminal patches which become broader to the tail-sides. Sometimes two or three outer pairs of tail feathers may be white. The throat, breast, abdomen, flanks and undertail are off-white, grey or brownish-grey; in last case with dark scaly pattern. The adult females are same colored but all tones are dimmer and greyer; underparts always have obvious brownish scaly pattern. Some females (probably old) are not distinguished from males. Juveniles are similar on females but more greyer; the scaly pattern is more expressive not only on underparts but on the head and mantle too. The bill and legs are black, eyes are dark-brown. Weight 54.5-88.6 grams, males - wing 102.0-123.0, tail 105.0-125.0, females – wing 104.0-115.5, tail 105.0-130.0 mm.


The Great Grey Shrike breeds in the mountains of Eastern and South-Eastern Kazakhstan and also in some places of the Northern Kazakhstan. On wandering and wintering occurs throughout. Some subspecies breed in Kazakhstan, other ones winter only. The detailed distribution in Kazakhstan please see in the chapter "Races".


The Great Grey Shrike is rare resident. It inhabits the upper part of light spruce forest of Dzhungarskiy Alatau at 2500-2700 m above sea level and sub-alpine zone with the odd tree or shrub in Altai (at 2000- 2500 m). It occurs on passage and in winter in open areas with single trees, groves, shrubby thickets and forest edge. There is no data about its breeding biology in Kazakhstan. Fledged juveniles had been observed on July 17 in 1966 in Altai near Markakol' lake. In foothills and on plains appear singly in October. Spring movement begins in early March to early April in southern areas, and in early to mid of April in northern areas, being recorded up to the end of May. Great Grey Shrike is an active bird of prey, living on small rodents and birds, afmphibia and reptiles, as well as larger insects. It can catch small birds on the wing killing them with a bite through the occiput. The prey can be carried either in beak or in clutches.


Lanius excubitor excubitor (Linnaeus, 1758)

    Description. On males the upperparts are darker; the forehead is less whitish more grey; the white supercilium is narrower; the white on the primaries and secondaries, on the bases of central tail feathers and on the terminal parts of outer four pairs of tail feathers is less extensive than on homeyeri. The white on tertials is less or no presented. Uppertail coverts are usually pale-grey, sometimes off-white. The white underparts are without dark pattern.
    Distribution. Occurs on wintering in the plain parts of Kazakhstan.

Lanius excubitor homeyeri (Cabanis, 1873)

    Description. On males the upperparts are paler; the forehead is whiter; the white supercilium is broader; the white on the primaries and secondaries, on the bases of central tail feathers and on the terminal parts of four outer pairs of tail feathers is more extensive, than on excubitor. The white on tertial is well defined. Uppertail coverts are usually white. The underparts are white without dark pattern.
    Distribution. Probably this race breeds in Northern Kazakhstan and Naurzum Reserve. On autumn wanderings and wintering occurs almost throughout, in particular regularly observed in Kurgaldzhino Reserve and Tien Shan highlands (Bolshoye Almatinskoye lake).

Lanius (excubitor) pallidirostris (Cassin, 1852)

    Description. On males the upperparts are pale-grey as on homeyeri, sometimes with pale-buffy tinge. The forehead is usually without white or rarely with slightly whitish on the base of upper mandible. The white supercilium is well expressed especially behind the eye. The white on the primaries and secondaries is extensive slightly less than on homeyeri but more than on excubitor. The bases of central pair of tail feathers usually are black without white. The uppertail coverts are usually pale-grey. Underparts are white without dark pattern. The notch on the outer web of the fifth flight feather is better defined than on other races.
    Distribution. Breeds in the southern half of Kazakhstan from Mangyshlak and Volga-Ural sands to Alakol depression; in north probably to Aral Karakum sands; Kengir-Sarysu confluence; and Sarychiganak. Breeds also in Zaysan depression. In end May 2004 observed at Chelkar-Nura plateau. Wanders and winters within breeding range.

Lanius excubitor sibiricus (Bogdanov, 1881)

    Description. On males the upperparts are darker slightly brownish tinged; the forehead is grey, rarely lighter above the bill; the white supercilium is very faint; the white on primaries is less extensive than on excubitor, the secondaries usually lack the white. The white on the bases of central tail feathers and on terminal parts of the four outer pairs of tail feathers is less extensive than on excubitor; there is no white on the tertials. Uppertail coverts are pale-grey. The underparts are white or white slightly pinkish tinged, with dark scaly pattern.
    Distribution. Occasionally winters in northern and eastern areas of Kazakhstan.

Lanius excubitor mollis (Eversmann, 1853)

    Description. Differs from all previous races by the brownish or buffy tinge on the upperparts, more intensive defined than on sibiricus but less than on funereus; by the buffy tinge on the underparts of both sexes; and by the well defined brownish or brown-buffy scaly pattern on upper and underparts. The white on flight and tail feathers is less extensive than on sibiricus.
    Distribution. Breeds on Southern Altai.

Lanius excubitor funereus (Menzbier, 1894)

    Description. On males the brownish-buff tinge on upperparts is more extensive than on mollis. Underparts are pale-brownish with slightly pinkish tinge. The dark scaly pattern on underparts of both sexes is from bolder and darker streaks than on mollis. The white on flight and tail feathers is less extensive than on all other races.
    Distribution. Breeds in Dzhungarskiy Alatau and Ketmen ridges. In winter recorded in mountains near Almaty.


"Птицы Казахстана" том 3. "Наука". Алма-Ата, 1970. Gavrilov E. I., Gavrilov A. E. "The Birds of Kazakhstan". Almaty, 2005. Э.И.Гаврилов. "Фауна и распространение птиц Казахстана". Алматы, 1999.



Lanius excubitor excubitor
(Linnaeus, 1758)
Lanius excubitor homeyeri
(Cabanis, 1873)
Lanius (excubitor) pallidirostris
(Cassin, 1852)
Lanius excubitor sibiricus
(Bogdanov, 1881)
Lanius excubitor mollis
(Eversmann, 1853)
Lanius excubitor funereus
(Menzbier, 1894)

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