Odd feeding behaviour of the Brown Shrike

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS encountered a Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus) at the ex-mining pool adjacent to limestone hills and secondary growth in Tambun Interior, Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia. He observed its odd feeding behaviour on 30th December 2010 and 1st January 2011, sending the account below.

“I observed this Brown Shrike having this same odd foraging behaviour over two different days (two days apart) (below). He had ‘occupied’ a mass of fallen bushes and trees. There he was hopping about like a babbler and looking for food. I saw him eat termite/large ants. When I approached he stood his ground and just went further/deeper into the tangle of twigs/brush. Only when I came within a meter did he choose to fly off, even then to a low bush nearby.

“Usually Brown Shrikes are hard to approach (except in a car), forage from a vantage point (wire, tree branch) and swoop down to capture prey. This chap was odd. Looking closely at its plumage, the tail feather are rather damaged/worn and so are wings. Perhaps not able to fly so well and using a different foraging mode to survive.”

Amar’s account received the attention of Tou Jing Yi who wrote: “Oddest shrike I have ever seen, not only because of the behavior, but also the plumage! The bird seemed to be an adult or sub-adult at least due to the cleaner plumage, well marked hind eye mask, rather clean belly with pale scales on the flanks, this seemed to be an adult female or at least very near to adult female, except for the lores, which is pale.

“It is even harder to decide a subspecies for it, it seems to NOT resemble any of the four known subspecies here. It does not look much like the ‘cristatus’/’confusus’ for having non uniformed head to upperparts color, as we see a distinct reddish crown but clear cut into pale greyish hind neck and upperparts. It does not seemed to be a ‘lucionensis’ as well for the rufous crown, which should be pale grey like the upperparts. It does not seemed to be a ‘supercilious’ for not being overall reddish enough and the supercilium is not thick, without the thick white forehead as well.

“Could had been intergrades or even the ‘Isabelline’ group of Brown Shrike recently shifted into the Brown Shrike species, but so far I had failed to see the resemblance of it with Isabelline Shrikes as well.

“Could this be a new vagrant from far away? I checked Robson’s and found no good match of such description to other known species from SEA mainland and neither resemble much of China’s shrike species. Any feedback are welcomed, just my two cents. Thanks.”

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