COMMON FISCAL SHRIKE – BIRD OF CONQUEST

We all know the Fiscal Shrike with his distinctive black and white colouring.,with the ‘V’ on his back and his long tail that he wags from side to side, he perches prominently at the top of a tree, waiting to swoop down on his prey of a lizard, grasshopper, or even a small bird. He then hangs his victim on a thorn, sharp twig, or barbed wire fence to be eaten later. This habit has earned the Fiscal Shrike nick-names such as ‘Jackie Hangman’ or ‘Butcher Bird’.

His official moniker is now “Common Shrike” – I wonder what he did wrong to be demoted from his position of fiscal to just plain ‘common’? Common Shrikes could be confused with Fiscal Flycatchers, but the latter do not wag their tails from side to side, and instead, have a white patch on their flanks and slender beaks. The female of the former species has a distinct russet patch on her flanks. Common Shrikes are aggressive and territorial often occupying several acres that they dominate throughout the year. They may breed at any time except during February. They are useful garden birds and are quite good mimics. The Zulu people regard shrikes as ‘Birds of Conquest’.

BOKMAKIERIE – BUSH SHRIKE

Listen for the distinctive call of the Bokmakierie to know we were back to the place where we would be happy! Bokmakierie is classified under the ‘Bush-Shrike’ family and is common over a wide range in South Africa where he is endemic. He is one of our distinctive songsters, often in duet, and he has several variations. Bokmakieries live on insects, small lizards, snakes, and frogs. As such, they are useful visitors in the garden. They are rather shy, but when they come out are easily recognised by their yellow under parts and black chin straps. In flight, the yellow band around the tail feathers is conspicuous.

COMMON INDIAN MYNA

Mynas are described as one of the world’s worst one hundred invasive species. Native to South Asia, these birds are great mimics and can be taught to ‘talk’, and so became pets and were distributed by sailors to many parts of the world as cage birds. In India, where the Common Myna originated, it is called “The Farmer’s Friend’ because it is an avid eater of insects. They were actually introduced into Australia in 1862 to control insect pests in market gardens and in sugar cane fields. It seems they were not very successful at this, but took kindly to their new environment and multiplied in their millions to become a major nuisance. By the late 1900s, Indian Mynas were firmly established in Natal, where they live in their thousands in Durban. They have gradually spread upwards as far as Gauteng. We first noticed them in Clarens about twenty years ago on the square. It was suggested that a ‘bounty’ be placed on them, but this was not done. Today, Indian Mynas are a common sight in Clarens. Common Mynas damage fruit and grain crops, but if they occur in large numbers (as in Durban), their noise and smell are very annoying. They also spread mites and disease. Perhaps the most serious crime of these birds is that they are maliciously aggressive to indigenous species, competing for nesting sites, and attacking their eggs and small chicks, and so reducing the indigenous birds’ numbers. It is a pity, because they are attractive birds, with their bright yellow beaks and legs, the yellow skin around the eye, and the white tips to tail feathers that are conspicuous in flight.

References: Roberts Birds of Southern Africa, Newman Bird Life in South Africa, SANP.

Author: Craig Walters

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