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Brown Shrike

Lanius cristatus

Migrant Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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The brown shrike is a bird in the shrike family that is found mainly in Asia. It is closely related to the red-backed shrike and isabelline shrike. The genus name, Lanius, is derived from the Latin word for "butcher", and some shrikes are also known as "butcher birds" because of their feeding habits. The specific cristatus is Latin for "crested", used in a broader sense than in English. The common English name "shrike" is from Old English scríc, "shriek", referring to the shrill call.

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Like most other shrikes, it has a distinctive black "bandit-mask" through the eye and is found mainly in open scrub habitats, where it perches on the tops of thorny bushes in search of prey. Several populations of this widespread species form distinctive subspecies which breed in temperate Asia and migrate to their winter quarters in tropical Asia.

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This shrike is mainly brown on the upper parts and the tail is rounded. The black mask can be paler in winter and has a white brow over it. The underside is creamy with rufous flanks and belly. The wings are brown and lack any white "mirror" patches. Females tend to have fine scalloping on the underside and the mask is dark brown and not as well marked as in the male. The distinction is not easy to use in the field but has been tested with breeding birds in Japan where the female can be identified from the presence of a brood patch. The use of multiple measurements allows discrimination of the sex of about 90% of the birds. Subspecies lucionensis has a grey crown shading into the brown upperparts and the rump appears more rufous than the rest of the upper back. The tail is more brownish and not as reddish as in the red-backed shrike. Younger birds of lucionensis have a brown crown and lack the grey on the head. Supspecies superciliosus has a broad white supercilium and a richer reddish crown. The tail is redder and tipped in white.

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A number of confusing forms are known from central Asia where the populations of cristatus, isabellinus and collurio overlap. The taxonomy has been in a state of flux and some forms such as phoenicuroides formerly considered as subspecies of L. cristatus have been moved to the species L. isabellinus. Subspecies lucionensis has been recorded interbreeding with superciliosus in Ishikawa, Japan while superciliosus has interbred with Lanius tigrinus in central Japan.

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The nominate form breeds in northern Asia from Mongolia to Siberia and winters in South Asia, Myanmar and the Malay Peninsula. The race confusus described from the same region is not well marked but is said to have a wider white brow and paler upperparts and is sometimes included within the nominate population. Subspecies superciliosus (sometimes called the Japanese shrike) breeds on the islands of Sakhalin, Kuril and Japan and winters in Hainan, Sumatra, Java, and the Sundas. Subspecies lucionensis, sometimes known as the Philippine shrike (local names: tarat or pakis-kis) breeds in Korea and eastern China wintering mainly in Taiwan and the Philippines but also on the Andaman Islands and in peninsular India. Stuart Baker suggested that the species may breed in the Cachar Hills of Assam but the idea was questioned by Claud Buchanan Ticehurst.

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This species is rare in Europe and vagrants have been recorded in the United States and Canada.

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The brown shrike is a migratory species and ringing studies show that they have high fidelity to their wintering sites, often returning to the same locations each winter. They begin establishing wintering territories shortly after arrival and their loud chattering or rattling calls are distinctive. Birds that arrive early and establish territories appear to have an advantage over those that arrive later in the winter areas. The timing of their migration is very regular with their arrival in winter to India in August and September and departure in April. During their winter period, they go through a premigratory moult. Their song in the winter quarters is faint and somewhat resembles the call of the rosy starling and often includes mimicry of other birds. The beak remains closed when singing and only throat pulsations are visible although the bird moves its tail up and down while singing.

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The breeding season is late May or June and the breeding habitat includes the taiga, forest to semi-desert where they build a nest in a tree or bush, laying two to six eggs.

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They feed mainly on insects, especially Lepidoptera. Like other shrikes, they impale prey on thorns. Small birds and lizards are also sometimes preyed upon. A white-eye has been recorded in its larder. They typically look out for prey from a perch and fly down towards the ground to capture them.

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Brown Shrike, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Brown Shrike, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Brown Shrike, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Brown Shrike, Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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Wings over Valparai

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The Anamalai Tiger Reserve and Valparai area in Western-Ghats of Tamilnadu are both perfect bird watching destinations. Birders will marvel at the array of colorful birds like Hornbills, Thrush Family, Flycatchers, woodpeckers and of course the sighting of our national bird, The Indian Peafowl.

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There are more than 350 species of birds found in Anamalais. The list includes resident birds, winter visitors and endemic birds of Anamalais. Nearly 5 % of birds found in Anamalai Tiger Reserve are endemic to Western Ghats

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What is birdwatching?

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Birdwatching or birding is the observation and study of birds with the naked eye or through a visual enhancement device like binoculars. Birding often involves a significant auditory component, as many bird species are more readily detected and identified by ear than by eye. Most birdwatchers pursue this activity mainly for recreational or social reasons, unlike ornithologists, who engage in the study of birds using more formal scientific methods.

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What do you need for birdwatching?

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• The most basic equipment required for bird watching is your eyes. That´s true but you will soon need to have more items with you if you intend to make this a pastime or serious hobby. How far you go is a matter of taste and budget.

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• The most useful thing that you can carry is a notepad and pencil. Use this to make a note of location, time, date, weather and habitat. Do a list of the birds that you see and know. Do a drawing or write down a description of those that you don’t. You can look them up later in you field guide. Your notebook should become a diary of where you have been and what you have seen. It will become a useful record as time passes.

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• A Field guide is a book, normally illustrated with drawings or photographs, which provides descriptions of birds that assists you in their identification. The descriptions use several factors to help you determine the exact bird that you are looking at. As soon as you see a bird that you do not recognize you will need to have access a good field guide. There are many to choose from. They come in various shapes, sizes, weight and cost.

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• Sites guides. These give locations where you can watch birds, the species you are likely to see and the best time to watch.

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• Binoculars. These are pretty essential and buy the best that you can afford. A good pair well looked after will last you a lifetime. Take time to choose ones that suit you.

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• Clothing. Bird watching being primarily an outdoor pursuit, it is sensible to have lightweight but warm and waterproof clothing. You will be more comfortable if you wear the right type of clothing for the conditions you are in.

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• Telescope. If you want to get a really close look at birds then you will need to get a bird watching scope and tripod. These are more expensive than binoculars but if you get to be serious about bird watching you will soon want to have them.

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• Camera. A simple point and shoot digital camera is good if you are close to birds, especially if you have a zoom lens. If not close enough to shoot birds it is still good to take general views or mementos of your day out. More expensive cameras, with telephoto lenses, can bring you close in to the birds.

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• Digiscoping. You can take pictures via your Scope–using it as a telephoto lens. You will need attachments for your scope.

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Code of birding ethics

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1. Promote the welfare of birds and their environment.
1. (a) Support the protection of important bird habitat.
1. (b) To avoid stressing birds or exposing them to danger, exercise restraint and caution during observation, photography, sound recording, or filming.
   Limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds, and never use such methods in heavily birded areas, or for attracting any species that is Threatened, Endangered, or of Special Concern, or is rare in your local area;
   Keep well back from nests and nesting colonies, roosts, display areas, and important feeding sites. In such sensitive areas, if there is a need for extended observation, photography, filming, or recording, try to use a blind or hide, and take advantage of natural cover.
   Use artificial light sparingly for filming or photography, especially for close-ups.
1. (c) Before advertising the presence of a rare bird, evaluate the potential for disturbance to the bird, its surroundings, and other people in the area, and proceed only if access can be controlled, disturbance minimized, and permission has been obtained from private land-owners. The sites of rare nesting birds should be divulged only to the proper conservation authorities.
1. (d) Stay on roads, trails, and paths where they exist; otherwise keep habitat disturbance to a minimum.

2. Respect the law, and the rights of others.
2. (a) Do not enter private property without the owner’s explicit permission.
2. (b) Follow all laws, rules, and regulations governing use of roads and public areas, both at home and abroad.
2. (c) Practice common courtesy in contacts with other people. Your exemplary behavior will generate goodwill with birders and non-birders alike.

3. Ensure that feeders, nest structures, and other artificial bird environments are safe.
3. (a) Keep dispensers, water, and food clean, and free of decay or disease. It is important to feed birds continually during harsh weather.
3. (b) Maintain and clean nest structures regularly.
3. (c) If you are attracting birds to an area, ensure the birds are not exposed to predation from cats and other domestic animals, or dangers posed by artificial hazards.

4. Group birding, whether organized or impromptu, requires special care.
  Each individual in the group, in addition to the obligations spelled out in Items #1 and #2, has responsibilities as a Group Member.
4. (a) Respect the interests, rights, and skills of fellow birders, as well as people participating in other legitimate outdoor activities. Freely share your knowledge and experience, except where code 1(c) applies. Be especially helpful to beginning birders.
4. (b) If you witness unethical birding behavior, assess the situation, and intervene if you think it prudent. When interceding, inform the person(s) of the inappropriate action, and attempt, within reason, to have it stopped. If the behavior continues, document it, and notify appropriate individuals or organizations.

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Other highlights for the avid birder will be the sighting of The Great HornBill or Thrush. Learn more about the endamic, migrants and other birds in and around valparai by checking out the list

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The below list is created in the guidance of Mr. K Selva Ganesh, Cinchona Government High School, Valparai who teaches English. Along with his students, won ebird’s Great Backyard Bird Count challenge, 2017. They contributed 360 checklists of birds, the highest number in the bird count challenge, and recorded 111 species.

Images and Data courtesy Mr. K Selva Ganesh, Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia and ebird.org

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List of Endamic Birds of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

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List of Migrant Birds that can be seen in Valparai

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List of Other Birds you can see in Valparai

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