Desert Grey Shrike

Singing 1st winter

Been looking forward to  processing my time on Linosa in early November 2011. I started to write from the island, but limited internet, excellent company, lively discussion of each day’s birds and Italiano cooking every night were too distracting! Linosa is here

More to come on the guys and the birds. There’s is a little story of new learning which began before I left England. Tea time on 30th November I got a phone call from Richard Vernon. Could I have a look at some photos of a shrike in Shropshire, suspected of being rather rare… Though I was gearing up for heading to Linosa, I figured I could just about squeeze it in. Glad I did.  Jim Almond sent me a bunch of his photos late evening. Distant bird so he had done well, which meant someone had done very well to winkle out, at long range what looked a very good candidate for pallidrostris (known as Steppe or Saxaul Grey Shrike). I labelled up the photo below and returned. Most importantly the process made me revisit the features of a first winter pallidirostris.

2 days later I was on Linosa looking at another first winter grey shrike

pallidirostis (Steppe) Grey Shrike. Wall Farm, Shropshire. 30th November 2011. © Jim Almond (Shropshire Birder). The white in the tail pattern and primaries in Jim’s photos looked very pro- pallidirostris and I labelled up some other positive features.

6th Record for Europe?

Something like 6th for Europe (Andrea will correct me!). Found by Ottavio Janni when he heard this wacky singing coming from the middle of a bush.

Have a listen. What would you have thought it was?!

recording 1 of subsong of 1st winter Desert Grey Shrike. Listen >HERE<

recording 2 of subsong of 1st winter Desert Grey Shrike. Listen >HERE<

Was keen to see this. I didn’t really know what to expect. Had seen ‘koenigi’ Grey Shrikes (Canaries) before. But what would this one, from North Africa, look like. I was really surprised. It showed a bunch of pallidirostris-like characters! (Hopefully now the earlier waffle makes sense). Igor obtained both recordings and photos. Check his site here

Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa, November 2011 © Igor Maiorano. First things that grabbed me: It’s a first winter Grey Shike. The bill is mahoosive- pallidirostris shaped, being much thicker than Northern excubitor. The lores are grey. The retained juvenile greater coverts have really broad rich rusty-buff tips, the tertials have big white tips and the primaries even look a little longer than typical northern  birds (though not as obviously long ass pallidirostris. Fascinating. Certainly made me see how ‘broadly’ at least, the Southern Grey Shrikes (into which pallidirostris is sometimes lumped) are more similar to each other than I  realised.


There was a long white patch at base of primaries but also lots of white in the secondaries which looked pretty cool in flight (see below). The 2 types (taxa) in the adjacent part of  N. Africa are elegans and algeriensis. While the coastal form algeriensis is nearer, it is dark toned grey, with no white in the secondaries and no white supercilium. With this bird’s white in secondaries, paler grey uppers etc, Andrea Corso, who knows this stuff,  thought this bird best fit ‘dodsoni’ the old name applied to the (extensively occurring) intergrades between algeriensis and elegans.


Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa, November 2011 © Igor Maiorano. above 3 photos.

Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa, November 2011 © Ottavio Janni

Desert Grey Shrike, Linosa, November 2011 © Igor Maiorano.

P.S. Following up, found an article by  in (Birding World 16 (8): 340-341, about the potential pitfall of algeriensis Desert Grey Shrikes being mistaken for pallidirostris. V. helpful photos of a young algeriensis from nearby Jarbah Island, Tunisia.


About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
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4 Responses to Desert Grey Shrike

  1. Andrea Corso says:

    Hi Martin

    very nice piece indeed ! ;-)))

    Only to report that the paper in BW 16 (8) you mention is also based upon mixed looking algeriensis-elegans or not ID juvenile (sometimes even the good algeriensis parents in N Tunisia could produce pale looking fresh juv. which eventually will turn darker later on )… and what he call Jarbah island is indeed Djerbà, a fantastic place where I go once or twice per year (going there in 20 days too 🙂 This is a huge low island close to the coast right in the centre of the Gulf of Gabès. There I’ve seen all sort of Desert Grey, from type algeriensis to type elegans (or nearly so) passing from all the formerly called dodsoni possible intermediate/intergdrades.
    However, typical algeriensis never have such a “monster” wide white on secondary like elegans or close birds.


    Coming soon with a great news, waiting till tomorrow to sound record that Snipe down here ;-))) !

  2. Chatterbirds says:

    That bird does have quite the monstruous bill. Thanks as always for providing such detailed, advanced articles on bird identification.

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