Great Grey Shrike – melanopterus

Dark and Scaly

We included the latin name ‘melanopterus in the Challenge series: WINTER. Doing any chapter on the sweep of Great Grey Shrikes across in the ‘northern’ zone seemed impossible. Even looking through specimens at Tring was more perplexing than revealing. Thankfully a little light emerged as I kept looking into it – much aided by Andy Stoddart and others. This paper was very helpful from the equally helpful Martin Brandsma’s .

There is variation with the use of melanopterus as a description of Great Grey Shrike plumage. Generally it references (north) western end, no white at base of secondaries etc. The darkest birds, like this one- well you can see the characters – are similar to Ray’s illustration and do stand out. It was in Suffolk and is well worth analysing as we continue to learn the grey shrikes.

Thanks very much to  Robert Wilton and fellow Suffolk birders, Rene Baptiste (finder), Justin Lansdell (research), Andrew  Easton (most of photos) and Tim Oakes who bring this one to BF.



“Hi Martin,

I thought you may be interested in some pictures of a Great Grey Shrike that we had in Lowestoft, Suffolk in October. Whilst I didn’t see it in the field (other than in flight!) we believe that it could be ‘melanopterus’. Out of the 8 or 9 GGS that we have had this Autumn this is the only one that was atypical from the usual brighter individuals we get.

After speaking with Justin Landsdell and Andrew Easton the following features seem to present in all the photographs:

1. Matt slate grey upperparts that never look pale or shining silvery (this was the same in the field in different light)
2. Lack of obvious supercilium above the mask
3. Well scalloped underparts set against a grubby off white background
4. Lack of anything other than trace of a white secondary patch

Sadly the outer tail feather in the first photo is not spread to show extent of black like the penultimate tail feather is,

Best wishes

Rob Wilton, Lowestoft”


Photo above by Tim Oakes


Photo above by Rene Baptiste


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IMG_0003Photos above by Andrew Easton


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