Lanius schach Linnaeus, 1758, China. Generally nine races recognized; intermediate forms exist. Variation concerns body and bill size, tail-length, and color of head and upperparts. Closely allied with the gray-backed (or Tibetan) shrike (Lanius tephronotus), but the latter is obviously a distinct species with two races.
OTHER COMMON NAMES
English: Black-headed shrike, Schach shrike, rufous-backed shrike; French: Pie-griиche schach; German: Schachwьrger; Spanish: Alcaudon Cabecinegro.
9–10.6 in (23–27 cm); on average 1.76–1.86 oz (50–53 g) for nominate and about 1.3 oz (37 g) for erythronotus. Nominate, which inhabits China, is the largest race. Sexes similar or nearly so. Head and mantle are dark gray, back and rump are rufous; tail is long, black, and graduated; wings are dark with conspicuous white primary patches. Underparts are whitish, strongly tinged with rufous on the sides of breast and flanks. Erythronotus, widespread in central Asia and in the Indian subcontinent, is similar, but distinctly smaller, somewhat duller, and with a narrower black band on the forehead. Caniceps from southern India and Sri Lanka is paler, with less rufous on its upperparts. Race tricolor is a superb Himalayan bird; it bears a black cap, shows a small grayish area on upper mantle, and has mainly deep rufous upperparts. It is rather similar to the three insular races. Race longicaudatus from Thailand has a very long tail. Remarkably, in certain areas, nominate has a melanistic form called fuscatus; mixed pairs have been recorded.
Has a vast breeding area, from central Asia, Turkmenistan, and possibly Iran, to the Chinese Pacific coast, Southeast Asia, and New Guinea.
A scrub jungle bird, but also associated with lightly wooded country, cultivated areas, and gardens. Generally a bird of lowlands, but in the Himalayas, tricolor populations have been found up to 9,800 ft (3,000 m) and occasionally up to 14,000 ft (4,300 m). Nominate breeds up to 9,800 ft (3,000 m) in China.
Solitary in habits, and highly territorial. Densities can, however, be very high locally with up to 1.6 pairs/acre (4 pairs/ha) in suburban areas in Afghanistan. It is very vocal in the breeding season during pair formation. It takes most of its prey on the ground, but also hawks insects in the air and occasionally pirates other birds. Impales some of its victims. Most populations are resident; however, local movements, including altitudinal ones, are known. The western part of the breeding range, covering central Asia, is almost completely vacated by erythronotus between August and November; the birds return in late February.
FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET
Arthropods, mainly insects; also small vertebrates and occasionally fruits.
Monogamous. The cup-shaped nest is rather bulky and placed in a thorny bush or in a tree; it is hidden 9.8–39.4 ft (3–12 m) above the ground. There appears to be a geographical variation in clutch size: four to six eggs in China, four in Sri Lanka, three in the Malay Peninsula, and two in New Guinea. Breeding season varies with geographical areas; the western race lays eggs between the end of March and July. Locally doublebrooded; replacement clutches are frequent. Incubation by female lasts 13–16 days, and the young fledge after 14–19 days.
SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS
In Nepal, its bill is used to “feed” newborn babies; this ceremony is supposed to bring luck to the young children.
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