Shrikes (like this Grey-backed Fiscal) are little wannabe raptors. They are quick and intense, with the requisite taste for lizards, snakes, and fledglings, but they’ve been evolutionarily deprived of the proper tools… so they improvise. Sure their bill is a slightly hooked which helps in nipping little chunks off their prey… but their talons need some help.

Luckily they live in acacia country where thorns abound. Who needs talons when you can skewer your prey to your heart’s content, leave it to sit for awhile so the skin loosens up in the heat, then eat your fill. No wonder they’ve earned the moniker “butcher bird.”

This one was calling to its family group as they wandered through the thorns searching for tidbits. The Long-tailed Fiscal pictured below has found a grasshopper and keeps a firm grip on both ends as it finds the nearest thorn laden bush.

Tanzania’s more commonly seen shrikes are the Common Fiscal, Long-tailed Fiscal, Grey-backed Fiscal, the beautiful dark Magpie Shrike, and the Northern White-crowned Shrike (seen in the series below).

From what I witnessed it seems insects make up a large part of their diet. Smaller ones are eaten quickly but larger ones take a little time to process.

Removing the legs is a good start but eventually this bird left with a legless insect, presumably to find a bush full of makeshift talons.

Next time we will explore the wonderful world of Weavers, ebullient artisans of the bird world.

CLICK HERE to revisit part one “Super Starlings.”

Written by Walter
Walter Kitundu is an artist and designer, instrument builder and bird photographer. As an artist he has created hand built record players powered by the wind and rain, fire and earthquakes, birds, light, and the force of ocean waves. Walter has performed and been in residence at art centers and science museums internationally. He has performed with the renowned Kronos Quartet, bassist Meshell Ndegeocello, the electronic music duo Matmos, and the legendary Marshall Allen - in venues from Carnegie Hall to a high school library in Egilstaadir, Iceland. In 2008 Walter became a MacArthur Fellow. Walter loves photographing birds and is an ongoing volunteer with the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. He was hooked when a Red-tailed Hawk landed at his side, ate a caterpillar, then refused to leave. He is a Senior Design Developer for the Studio Gallery at the Exploratorium in San Francisco where he designs and builds environments for learning. You can see more of his work on his blog, Bird Light Wind.