Moulting Daurian Shrike ID in Autumn

Older Females

Martin Garner and Andrew Lassey

Texel, Netherlands and Kent, UK. October 2014

Autumn 2014 brought a fine collection of ‘red-tailed shrikes’. Several more obvious first winter Daurians (isabellinus) headlined. A trickier looking first winter Turkestan (phoenicuroides) in Cornwall gave rise to lively debate. The Dutch trapped a stunning looking first winter Turkestan Shrike at Castricum that seemed to tick all the boxes. And there were more…

including this bird….

female 'red-tailed shrike' (probably 2nd calendar year), Texel, Netherlands, 11th October 2014. Maurits Martens

female ‘red-tailed shrike’ (probably 2nd calendar year), Texel, Netherlands, 11th October 2014. Maurits Martens

In the Challenges Series chapter on Daurian and Isabelline Shrike we covered the expected first winters and adults. Fresh plumaged  (fully moulted) adult female Daurian Shrikes have been well recorded in e.g. the UK in recent years. We know them, don’t we?

Head scratching

This Texel bird stepped outside familiar boxes. It’s a worn and moutling female, probably in its 2nd calendar year (so a year and ++ half old). Which makes things a little trickier. Indeed the presenting appearance of cold greyish tones above, white looking below, apparently contrasting dark mask quickly gave rise to speculation that it could be  an example of the rarer Turkestan- keen Dutch birders woke-up!

Have another look at these excellent photos thanks to Maurits and Charles Martens



Rumination and discussion followed. While not definitive, the balance of opinion lies with the Texel (and Kent) bird being a worn and moulting female Daurian (isabellineus). With very grateful thanks to Nils van Duivendijk, Andrew Lassey, Grahame Walbridge, Arend Wassink.

Moult and Migration timing

As this bird is worn and moutling, it is helpful to look further at movement. Oscar Campbell updated understandings of Isabelline and Daurian Shrike movements in the U.A.E. as follows:

The status of Isabelline Shrike taxa in the United Arab Emirates by Oscar Campbell

“My data show that there is a clear distinction between phoenicuroides and isabellinus in terms of their occurrence in the UAE. The former [Turkestan- phoenicuroides] is almost exclusively a passage migrant, mainly between mid September and mid October, and again from early March until early May, with stragglers until mid May or even later.

Although not recorded by me, very small numbers of phoenicuroides are seen in the UAE in August, at least in some years, and mainly in the last week of the month (average of 3.6 bird-days each August, during 2007–11 in the country as a whole; T. Pedersen pers. comm.).

In contrast, [Daurian- ] isabellinus is generally present only from October to March, with very few records outside this period (and in August, only three bird-days in total in the five years 2007–11). It is often widespread in favoured habitats (fodder fields, desert edge and urban parks) throughout the winter, with many individuals departing by mid February and replaced by a strong wave of passage migrants that peaks in the first half of March.”

British Birds 105 • July 2012 • 417–42

In contrast to some literature (but not all), the considerable experience of A.W. and Nils van D. is that (on average, with overlap?) Daurian moult later than Turkestan. Thus:

Turkestan Shrike often complete moult before the autumn.

Daurian Shrike similarly complete or not complete before the autumn.

This maybe reflect the (much later) breeding season of Daurian and could also correspond with Oscar Campbell’s observation of movement and  through the U.A.E.


Andrew Lassey who has loads of experience with the Red-tailed Shrikes (and an understanding of ‘photo-artefacts’) brough as apposite comment on the images of the Texel bird:

“Hi Martin,

Thank you for letting me see the series of images.

Though many females and even more 1st winter ‘Red-tails’ can be a problem I eventually came to the opinion that this bird is not too bad. Initially I thought I was seeing mixed features but finally came to the view that everything points to Daurian. I believe the opinion is that the bird is a 2nd CY female and that seems reasonable. Looking at a few features I would comment as follows:

Tail – largely brown which is typical of most females, however the base of the tail and upper tail coverts are more cinnamon than red and this is consistent with most Daurian.

Supercilium – hardly present, Turkestan usually has a good whitish super, whereas Daurian is less well marked (buffish), this feature (or lack of) supports Daurian.

Crown – some images show a slight rufous or brownish tinge which might be seen as a Turkestan feature, it is however not unusual for Daurians to show this.

Mask – several images show it to be fairly prominent though it does look fairly slim and I believe the shape (lack of downturn and flairing at the rear) to be more typical of Daurian but not necessarily
ruling out Turkestan.

Upper parts – look pretty well fine for Daurian.

Underparts – Initially puzzled by the whitish appearance on most of the images which would be odd for Daurian and more typical of Turkestan. I wonder if the underparts in reality were less strikingly white and the crescent markings to be rufous/orange (or whatever) which supports Daurian as apposed to the colder brown of Turkestan.

I can see no signs of any Red-back features though most female hybrids are near impossible to tell from the genuine article. Intergrades between Daurian and Turkestan do occur but they are so rare as to hardly be an issue in extralimital birds.

Not the easiest individual but several features strongly suggest Daurian and I can’t find much to positively support Turkestan!

All the best, Andrew”

and then it went to Worth, Kent

A week late (16th October) Steve Ashton got some lovely close-ups. See Steve Ashton’s website– lots of smart photos! It’s the same bird.

It’s a sunny day- so beware! On plumage it starts to look warmer. The crescents aren’t so blackish, the forehead scales help ageing (more 2cy than adult) , the underparts are not really pure white and the white supercilium is un-white-  not striking as on easy Turkestan. There’s  a bit too much buffishness wash going on in cheeks and underparts… maybe (while heavily emphasising the great struggle of interpreting photos! Have a look:




and if you are following 🙂

Some of the others from autumn 2014

Turkestan Shrike –  apparent 1cy at Castricum, Netherlands in November

Turkestan Shrike-  apparent 1cy at Pendeen, Cornwall in November

Daurian Shrike- 1cy at Spurn, East Yorkshire in October

and this very interesting one found by John Edwards was on Mallorca on 30th October. It’s a an interesting looking one… More discoveries ahead!

lanius 1




4 thoughts on “Moulting Daurian Shrike ID in Autumn

  1. Harry

    The information on the respective statuses of Daurian and Turkestan Shrikes in UAE is interesting. When a few of us birded Oman in January 2014, I paid close attention to any ‘Isabelline Shrike’ that showed well enough to check, and I didn’t see any that made me think of Turkestan Shrike. While Oman is further south than UAE, and thus some Turkestans may overwinter, it is interesting that all of the birds that I saw well personally seemed to be Daurians. Perhaps Turkestan tends to continue further again, down into east Africa, with few if any remaining in the Arabian Peninsula?

  2. Brian Small

    I did an evaluation of the dates of isabelline shrike photos taken by Rashed 11112 in Kuwait – just for fun (!) – and repeatable by others to see if they agree….

    See Rashed 11112 – Isabelline Shrikes

    The passage for phenicuroides echoes to some extent that of Campbell in UAE, though with a relatively poor autumn passage and good spring – starting early in Jan and with a pronounced peak in March.

    For isabellinus the numbers are higher and there simply seems to be an over-wintering period, with a passage in the early year, again starting in Jan but extending only into April

    Phoenicuroides (imm in brackets) n=33
    Aug 1
    Sep 2 (3)
    Oct 0 (3)
    Nov 0
    Dec 1
    Jan 3
    Feb 2
    Mar 9
    Apr 7
    May 2

    Isabellinus (imm in brackets) n=44
    Sep 2
    Oct 4 (1)
    Nov 3 (2)
    Dec 5 (1)
    Jan 8
    Feb 5
    Mar 8
    Apr 5

    I am interested in what these timings mean. It is likely that phoenicuroides migrates further; leaving breeding grounds earlier and arriving back later. I am hesitant to fully agree with all previous comments on distribution (e.g., Shrikes by Lefanc & Worfolk) as they are based in some instances on ID criteria that are still only just being ‘nailed down’. For example field records of isabelline shrikes in the Gambia are ‘thought’ to be phoenicuroides, but until I see photos or indeed one myself, I would be hesitant to use this as proof that this is the form that overwinters further west, as is stated in HBW.

    Keep up the good work!



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