Home
 
 

Articles Attempted predation of a Northern Wheatear by an Isabelline Shrike

 
 

This page contains 4 reader comments. Click here to view (latest Tue 21/03/17 11:56).

Ornithologically speaking, the event that has stirred up most interest on my Twitter feed these last few weeks was documenting the attempted predation of a Northern Wheatear by an Isabelline Shrike. The attempted 'kill' only failed when the shrike was momentarily distracted by a Marsh Harrier passing overhead and the wheatear managed to wriggle free from the shrike's clutches and escape.

I was zeroing in on the Northern Wheatear when the attack happened. I should point out I was still in my car, the bird on my side of a track in a field of okra. It was, as is usual in these encounters, staying just ahead of me, moving from bush to bush as I edged forward; distance wise, it was always the wrong side of too far for that classic close-up photograph. Persistence and patience are, as always, the key and the wheatear finally dropped to the ground to feed on a bug so I angled the car across the track to take a decent shot. My camera was already out of the window, when the shrike struck just as I focused. At that point I hadn't noticed the shrike's presence; on reflection I don't think the wheatear had either!

The attack was incredibly fast; it came as if from nowhere. The shrike struck from the rear, landing on the wheatear's back. I just watched, clicked away, trying to keep the scuffling birds in focus, the car still in gear slowly angling closer by the microsecond. By the time the wheatear had escaped and disappeared into the depths of the okra and the shrike had moved to a distant fence line, I was left thinking "what the...", not too certain of what I had just witnessed. Thankfully I did have a good number of usable frames on my camera from the 14-second attack, which were much better than I dared hoped for, given the circumstances.

With plenty of other birds around, I only casually glanced at my images in the field and it was only on arrival at home that I began to appreciate the detail of the attempted 'kill' that was visible in my images.


Photos: Howard King

So how does a shrike take down another bird, virtually its own size? The key to the bird's strike was the use of its feet, combined with its natural speed, stealth and strength. It was an extremely rapid and surprise attack from the rear. Clamped on to the femur, the shrike was able to spread-eagle the wheatear's legs, causing the victim to collapse to the ground in an instant. With the victim pinned to the floor, the shrike is perfectly placed to attack the neck and throat as they became openly exposed as the wheatear turns to try and fend off the attacker.

Had the Marsh Harrier not passed over I am certain the outcome would have been in favour of the shrike, and my photo series would have run to a few but bloody dozen more.

Useful links

Birding Bahrain: www.hawar-islands.com/blog/index.php

Twitter: @BirdsofBahrain

Related pages

Northern Wheatear Northern Wheatear
Isabelline Shrike Isabelline Shrike


Related articles

Articles Andrew Roadhouse: 1965-2017 Articles Andrew Roadhouse: 1965–2017
John Law pays tribute to his great friend, Spurn stalwart Andy Roadhouse, who sadly passed away at the end of April. read on read on
Articles In the right place at the wrong time Articles In the right place at the wrong time
Graham Gordon was left tearing his hair out as a frustrating autumn 2016 culminated with a dead 'first' within striking distance of his home. read on read on
Articles The top 10 Western Palearctic vagrants of 2016 Articles The top 10 Western Palearctic vagrants of 2016
Josh Jones takes a look at some of the standout rarities recorded in the Western Palearctic in 2016. read on read on
Articles Catching up with a record-breaker: an interview with Arjan Dwarshuis Articles Catching up with a record-breaker: an interview with Arjan Dwarshuis
After a successful 2016 spent smashing the world year-list record with a total of 6,833 species, Dutch birder Arjan Dwarshuis is back in his native Amsterdam — and we caught up with him for a chat about the mother of all birding years. read on read on
Articles Autumn on a boat Articles Autumn on a boat
Ryan Irvine spent a significant proportion of the autumn on a boat off north Norfolk — here he tells the remarkable tales of migration over the North Sea. read on read on


The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.

hide section Reader comments (4)

#1
These are fascinating, well done.
   Mark Coates, 20/03/17 14:53Report inappropriate post Report 
#2
Incredible & I'm sure you're right ,a few more pecks to the head & neck & it would have been curtains for the wheatear;'great captures ,right place right time!
   Adrian, 20/03/17 15:00Report inappropriate post Report 
#3
superb. glad the wheatear got away though
   Alan Horsley, 21/03/17 10:50Report inappropriate post Report 
#4
Wow! That's flippin' fantastic-well done you!
   Kev Joynes, 21/03/17 11:56Report inappropriate post Report 

Back to top Back to top

Latest edition Latest edition
Search articles Search articles
All articles All articles
Popular articles Popular articles
 
   
 
Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Terms of Sale | Cookie Policy | About us | Advertise | Contact us
BirdGuides, Warners Group Publications PLC, The Chocolate Factory, 5 Clarendon Road, London N22 6XJ
© 2017 BirdGuides and Warners Group Publications plc. All Rights Reserved. Company Registered in England no. 2572212 | VAT registration No. GB 638 3492 15
Sales: or tel. 0800 919391 · International Sales: +44 (0)1778 391180 · Office: or tel. 020 8826 0934
 
   

Fatbirder's Top 1000 Birding Websites