My shriek of de­light over ar­rival of shrike

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

I’VE been look­ing for an ex­am­ple of hy­per­bole which would best de­scribe my lat­est sighting in my Pad­field gar­den but, be­fore I come up with one, let me set the scene.

It’s mid-morn­ing Satur­day, just be­fore the seed-swop­pers from Pad­field Al­lot­ment So­ci­ety ar­rive, when I walk to the kitchen win­dow to fill the ket­tle.

The feed­ers are swing­ing with a flurry of blue tits, gold finches, a red­poll and one an­noy­ing jack­daw, and then in a flash my well-honed pe­riph­eral vision kicked in to the un­mis­tak­able shape of the ‘butcher bird’, aka the great grey shrike, perched on the very top of my tallest plumb tree.

It was def­i­nitely a fa­mous first for me, and al­though I’ve seen these beau­ties be­fore at Rhodeswood, Crow­den and Glos­sop, a shrike in my back gar­den – awe­some, just awe­some!

They are called the ‘butcher bird’, or ‘larder bird’, be­cause of their habit of ‘stor­ing’ their prey, in­clud­ing lizards, bee­tles, mice and small birds on large thorns, and even some­times on the spikes of barbed wire.

It’s a case of catch­ing the food, even if not hun­gry, and then re­turn­ing to the larder when the need arises.

The great grey shrike is the largest of the Euro­pean shrikes.

Small num­bers come to the UK in au­tumn and spend the win­ter here. They are very ter­ri­to­rial so you’re un­likely to see more than one at once.

Shrikes are of­ten mobbed by other birds which recog­nise them as dan­ger­ous preda­tors.

Keep an eye out for a medium-sized, long­tailed bird sit­ting at the top of a tree. The black mask and grey plumage are dis­tinc­tive.

A great grey will pur­sue small birds in flight over con­sid­er­able dis­tances, usu­ally seiz­ing them in its feet, but at times strik­ing them down with its beak.

The prey is car­ried off in the shrike’s feet, an abil­ity which shrikes share with very few other passer­ines.

I was for­tu­nate a num­ber of years ago to spot a great grey quar­ter­ing a meadow, no more than 15 feet above the ground, when a cou­ple of times it dropped to the ground be­fore lift­ing back into the air.

The bird had spotted a mouse and missed twice. Un­for­tu­nately for the small mam­mal, no es­cape hole be­came avail­able fast enough, and it was third time lucky for the hunter, with vic­tim soon im­paled on a large thorn.

It would ap­pear that some in­di­vid­u­als will re­turn to the same place ev­ery win­ter, al­low­ing lo­cal bird­watch­ers to await the ar­rival, nar­row­ing down their sight­ings to a favourite perch.

An ex­am­i­na­tion of casts and re­mains taken un­der the favourite perches of a great grey has re­vealed an amaz­ingly var­ied and bal­anced diet – or in other words, shrike are just not fussy.

Diet items have in­cluded, for ex­am­ple, most of the afore­men­tioned birds on my feed­ers, and also lin­nets, meadow pip­pits, ear­wigs, spi­ders, red­wing, chaffinch, bram­bling, pied wag­tail, lizards, frogs, mice and even a young stoat.

The Laugh­ing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glos­sop

●● The great grey shrike, also known as the ‘butcher bird’

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