Long-tailed Shrike impales lizard

posted in: Feeding strategy, Feeding-vertebrates | 16

In early January 2010, Kennie Pan a.k.a. knpan observed an interesting behaviour of a Long-tailed Shrike (Lanius schach) in Singapore. The bird suddenly flew to a grassy area and caught a lizard. It brought the prey back to a thorny palm where it impaled it on a long, sharp spine (above). Then the shrike attacked the carcass (below), bringing it back to its chicks in the nearby nest.

The Long-tailed Shrike is a common resident in Singapore. Although a songbird, it behaves like a raptor when hunting. As with other shrikes, it has the habit of impaling preys on sharp thorns, thus they are commonly known as ‘butcher birds’.

The bill of the shrike is short and sharp, hooked at the tip. This Long-tailed Shrike shrike has a ‘cross bill’ – probably a birth defect, according to ornithologist Wang Luan Keng (left). Check out an earlier post on deformed bill in the Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris) and other species HERE to understand this unusual condition.

The diet of these shrikes consists of large insects and small vertebrates that include songbirds, reptiles, rodents and even mammals. Although they generally capture small preys, there were instances when they caught and kill animals up to five times as large as their own body size. Like raptors, owls and a few other birds, shrikes cast pellets consisting of indigestible parts of the prey like bones, fur, skin and feathers.

Three years ago we posted a Tiger Shrike (Lanius tigrinus) dismantaling a scarab beetle.

We also mentioned that there had not been any local report of a shrike capturing a vertebrate prey or a photograph of a prey impaled by the bird. Thanks to Kennie we now have photographic evidence of the Long-tailed Shrike impaling its prey.

This post is a cooperative effort between NaturePixels.org and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.

16 Responses

  1. Robert DeCandido PhD


    In 2003 in Ipoh, Malaysia, Laurence Poh photographed a Long-tailed Shrike larder – including one frog that had been impaled.

  2. jeff

    My question for the image showing the bird having a cross-bill: is this cross bill observation consistent throughout the entire event or just momentarily, say perhaps after some preening or beak cleaing activity? it may not necessarily be a “birth defect” since picture only capture a moment in time (although as judged from the image the tip of its beak does exhibit some unusual curvature)

  3. kenniepan

    Hi Jeff,

    I have videos of the LTS adult and this cross bill does not occur all the time, i think maybe just some mouth misplacment . If it was a birth defect it will have been permanent.


  4. jeff

    Excellent observation. Just wonder how a properly aligned beak looks like given the unusual state prior mentioned? I think this will help to clear up my misconception that a deformed beak would not close properly or is always cross. thx

  5. kenniepan

    Hi, here are the videos. I am unable to upload to youtube as it is very very slow uploading process there, so i uploaded to my facebook account, which was much faster, YC, u are in my friends list, i think no problem viewing it for u.

    Here are the links videos of birds so far i took.
    Long Tail Shrike nest:
    LTS Nest parent with chicks (About 2 days later):
    Hodgson Hawk Cuckoo:
    Dark Sided Flycatcher :
    Black Backed KingFisher Guirgating & Behaviour:
    Black Backed Kingfisher Flapping Wings (I am not sure why it flaps b4 it flies off the branch):

  6. WildPhotos

    The cross bill could be also be somewhat caused by camera perspective as it’s not at the same angle as the other photos. The shrikes here have adapted to western agriculture and impale their grasshoppers on the barb wire fencing.

  7. YC

    BESG congratulates Kennie Pan for winning the grand prize of a recent local biodiversity photographic competition. His photo of the Long-tailed Shrike tearing a lizard after impaling it on a sharp palm spine won him top spot among more than 2,200 entries from 725 participants. His is a rare image that local birdwatchers have seldom, if at all, seen. Well done, Kennie.

    Check out his webpage: http://kenniepan.com/?p=354

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