This 16–18 cm (approx. 6.3–7.1 inches) long migratory bird eats large insects, small birds, frogs, rodents and lizards. Like other shrikes it hunts from prominent perches, and impales corpses on thorns or barbed wire as a "larder." This practice has earned it the nickname of "butcher bird."
The general colour of the male’s upper parts is reddish. It has a grey head and a typical shrike black stripe through the eye. Underparts are tinged pink, and the tail has a black and white pattern similar to that of a wheatear. In the female and young birds the upperparts are brown and vermiculated. Underparts are buff and also vermiculated.
This bird breeds in most of Europe and western Asia and winters in tropical Africa. Once a common migratory visitor to Great Britain, numbers declined sharply during the 20th century. The bird's last stronghold was in Breckland but by 1988 just a single pair remained, successfully raising young at Santon Downham. The following year for the first time no nests were recorded in the UK. But since then sporadic breeding has taken place, mostly in Scotland and Wales. In September 2010 the RSPB announced that a pair had raised chicks at a secret location on Dartmoor where the bird last bred in 1970. In 2011, two pairs nested in the same locality, fledging seven young. This return to south western England has been an unexpected development and has raised speculation that a warming climate could assist the bird in re-colonising some of its traditional sites, if only in small numbers.
foto:mihai baciu -chettusia