Migratory Shrikes prey on other migrating songbirds during trans-Saharan crossing

Shrikes (family Laniidae) are small songbirds that are notorious for the gruesome habit of attacking, impaling and consuming vertebrates such as frogs, lizards, snakes, rodents and sometimes other songbirds. However the Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator pictured above), being among the smallest and most migratory species of the family, is not known for this behavior on its breeding or wintering grounds, and is seemingly content with an amicable diet of arthropods. However, at a spring stopover site in the Sahara desert, we began to notice that it too aggressively chases and sometimes kills songbirds that are also in the midst of their migration. We found evidence that only the weakest among migrating songbirds (gauged by body condition) fall victims to this seemingly opportunistic diet switch by Woodchat Shrikes. We suggest that the debilitating desert crossing renders some individuals easier to capture, perhaps explaining why it is not commonly observed during sedentary periods. Stopover is really a dynamic time for songbirds, and you can read a little more in our publication found here.   


A Common Redstart impaled by a Woodchat Shrike during migration. From its ring we know its body condition prior to predation- this one was in very poor condition, probably contributing to its capture by the shrike.

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