Rufous-tailed shrike -- 棕尾伯劳 (Lanius isabellinus)

Rufous-tailed shrike, side view
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST

Top facts

  • As its name suggests, the rufous-tailed shrike is most easily recognised by its reddish-brown, or rufous, tail.
  • The rufous-tailed shrike has a characteristic dark facial ‘mask’ which is more distinct in the male than the female.
  • Like other shrikes, the rufous-tailed shrike has a strong, hooked, raptor-like beak which it uses to kill its prey.
  • Shrikes are also known as ‘butcher-birds’ after their habit of impaling prey on spikes and thorns.
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Rufous-tailed shrike fact file

Rufous-tailed shrike description

GenusLanius (1)

A medium-sized shrike species, the rufous-tailed shrike (Lanius isabellinus) is named for its characteristic reddish-brown rump and tail, which contrast with its otherwise pale buff-brown upperparts. The underparts of the body are sandy-buff to white, with a pink tinge, and there is sometimes a small white or cream patch on the wings (3) (4).

Like other shrikes in the genus Lanius, the rufous-tailed shrike has a relatively large head and a dark ‘mask’ on the face, which in the male rufous-tailed shrike varies from brownish to black. The male also has a pale stripe above the eye, and may sometimes have a reddish-brown crown (3) (4). The rufous-tailed shrike’s bill is short, thick and black, with a small hook on the upper mandible (3) (4), and the legs and feet are also black (3).

The male and female rufous-tailed shrike are quite similar in appearance, but the female is duller, with a smaller face mask, a reduced or absent pale wing patch, and slight barring on the underparts. Juvenile rufous-tailed shrikes resemble the adult female, but have barring on both the upperparts and underparts (3) (4).

Four subspecies of rufous-tailed shrike are generally recognised, which vary in size and colouration. Of these, Lanius isabellinus isabellinus has particularly pale plumage, while Lanius isabellinus phoenicuroides is much more contrasting, with a strongly reddish-brown rump and tail, a large black facial mask, a more distinct white wing patch and sometimes a reddish-brown crown. The rufous-tailed shrike is generally paler and plainer than other shrikes (3) (4), but can be difficult to tell apart from other species, particularly as hybrids are common (3).

The song of the rufous-tailed shrike is a continuous quiet, varied warble containing a medley of harsher and squeakier sounds, as well as mimicry of other species. The rufous-tailed shrike also gives a variety of harsh calls (3).

Also known as
Central Asian shrike, Chinese shrike, Daurian shrike, isabelline shrike, pale-brown shrike, red-tailed shrike, rufous shrike, steppe shrike, Turkestan red-tailed shrike, Turkestan rufous-tailed shrike, Turkestan shrike.
Pie-grièche isabelle.
Length: 17 - 22 cm (2) (3)
Wingspan: 37 - 42 cm (2)
25 - 38 g (3)

Rufous-tailed shrike biology

Like other shrikes, the rufous-tailed shrike is rather raptor-like in its behaviour, using its strong, hooked bill to kill prey, and often grasping its victim with its feet. Lanius species are also well known for their habit of impaling prey on spikes or thorns, with the name ‘Lanius’ coming from the Latin for ‘butcher’ and giving these birds the alternative name of ‘butcher-birds’ (3) (4).

The rufous-tailed shrike feeds mainly on insects and small vertebrates, including rodents, lizards and birds (3) (4), and like other shrikes it may be able to consume noxious insects without ill effect (3). This species typically hunts from a prominent perch, scanning the surrounding area for potential prey before flying down to capture its victim. It may also sometimes take prey from low bushes or trees, or even capture it in the air (3).

The male rufous-tailed shrike is territorial, although the territories of different individuals tend to overlap. Like other shrikes, the rufous-tailed shrike is likely to be monogamous (3). The breeding season of this species varies between locations and between different subspecies, but generally runs from about April to June (3) (4).

The nest site is usually chosen by the male rufous-tailed shrike, and the male attempts to attract the female to potential sites by singing and displaying. The nest is typically built a couple of metres above the ground in a thorny bush, or sometimes in a tree or among reeds (3) (4). Both sexes help build the nest, which consists of a deep cup of twigs, bark, leaves, roots, grass, wool and feathers (3).

The rufous-tailed shrike may lay between three and eight eggs, although four to six is more common. The eggs are incubated by the female for 13 to 17 days (3) (4), while the male brings food to the nest (3). The young rufous-tailed shrikes leave the nest at about 12 to 16 days old, and are fed by both adults for a further month (3). Although the rufous-tailed shrike usually raises only a single brood each year, the subspecies L. i. isabellinus is thought to potentially raise a second. The nests of this shrike are sometimes parasitised by the common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) (3) (4).


Rufous-tailed shrike range

The rufous-tailed shrike breeds in central Asia, from Iran north to Kazakhstan, and east to China and Mongolia (3) (5), with each subspecies occupying a slightly different part of the range (3).

A migratory species, the rufous-tailed shrike moves south to spend the winter in parts of Africa, just south of the Sahara, as well as in the southern Arabian Peninsula, and from Iraq and Iran east to northern India (3) (4) (5). The rufous-tailed shrike is also occasionally recorded outside of its normal range in parts of Western Europe (3) (6).


Rufous-tailed shrike habitat

The rufous-tailed shrike occurs in a range of habitats, but is usually found in open country with scattered bushes, in semi-deserts, dry steppes and dry mountainous regions. It also occurs in cultivated areas, woodland, parks, and sometimes river valleys and marshy areas (3) (4).

This species has been recorded at elevations from sea level to around 3,500 metres (3).


Rufous-tailed shrike status

The rufous-tailed shrike is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Rufous-tailed shrike threats

The rufous-tailed shrike has an extremely large range and its population is believed to be stable. It is therefore not currently considered to be at risk of extinction (6).

There are not known to be any major threats to the rufous-tailed shrike at present.


Rufous-tailed shrike conservation

There are no specific conservation measures currently known to be in place for the rufous-tailed shrike.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more about the rufous-tailed shrike and its conservation:



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Brood parasite
An animal that lays its eggs in the nests of members of its own or other species; the host then raises the young as its own.
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
The offspring produced by parents of two different species or subspecies.
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
In birds, the lower jaw and beak, but the term is also used to denote the two parts of the beak.
Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
A vast grassland plain, characterised by few trees and low rainfall.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
Animals with a backbone, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.


  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2012)
  2. Snow, D.W. and Perrins, C.M. (1998) The Birds of the Western Palearctic: Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. Harris, T. and Franklin, K. (2000) Shrikes & Bush-shrikes. Including Wood-shrikes, Helmet-shrikes, Shrike Flycatchers, Philentomas, Batises and Wattle-eyes. A&C Black Publishers, London.
  4. Lefranc, N. and Worfolk, T. (2010) Shrikes: A Guide to the Shrikes of the World. A&C Black Publishers, London.
  5. Sibley, C.G. and Monroe Jr, B.L. (1990) Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.
  6. BirdLife International (September, 2012)

Image credit

Rufous-tailed shrike, side view  
Rufous-tailed shrike, side view

© Hanne & Jens Eriksen

Hanne & Jens Eriksen


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