Shrikes are passerine birds of the family Laniidae. The family is composed of thirty one species in three genera. The family name, and that of the largest genus, Lanius, is derived from the Latin word for "butcher", and some shrikes were also known as "butcher birds" because of their feeding habits.
Distribution, migration and habitat
Most shrike species have a Eurasian and African distribution, with just two breeding in North America (the Loggerhead and Great Grey shrikes). There are no members of this family in South America or Australia, although one species reaches New Guinea. The shrikes vary in the extent of their ranges, with some species like the Great Grey Shrike ranging across the northern hemisphere to the Newton's Fiscal which is restricted to the island of São Tomé.
They inhabit open habitats, especially steppe and savannah. A few species of shrike are forest dwellers, seldom occurring in open habitats. Some species breed in northern latitudes during the summer, then migrate to warmer climes for the winter.
Shrikes are medium-sized birds, up to 50 centimetres (20 in) in length, with grey, brown, or black and white plumage. Their beaks are hooked, like that of a bird of prey, reflecting their predatory nature, and their calls are strident.
Shrikes are known for their habit of catching insects and small vertebrates and impaling their bodies on thorns. This helps them to tear the flesh into smaller, more conveniently-sized fragments, and serves as a cache so that the shrike can return to the uneaten portions at a later time. This same behavior of impaling insects serves as an adaptation to eating the toxic lubber grasshopper (Romalea guttata). The bird waits for 1–2 days for the toxins within the grasshopper to degrade, and then can eat it.
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