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This article is a shortened version of a longer paper published in British Birds in 2005 (BB volume 98, January 2005, 32-42 contact http://www.britishbirds.co.uk/ ).

Whenever I go to the Mediterranean region in Spring or Summer, one of the highlights of any trip is seeing Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator. I have been lucky enough to see all of the subspecies through field observations in Portugal, Mallorca, Corsica, Cyprus and Gambia, plus many in the UK. I have also studied in detail the specimens at the Natural History Museum, Tring, UK. Four forms of Woodchat Shrike are generally recognised in, for example, BWP, but Shrikes (Lefranc and Worfolk) recognise only three: nominate senator, breeds in Spain, north into France, Switzerland and into southern Germany east to western Turkey - rutilans, from southern Portugal, Spain and NW Africa are only very subtly different to the nominate; niloticus, which breeds in the countries on the E edge of the Med, Turkey east to Iran — but can be seen on passage in Cyprus, is fairly distinct; badius breeds on the Balearic islands, plus Corsica and Sardinia.

adult female; note the lack of white at the base of the primaries; narrow white fringes on greater coverts and tertials sometimes absent; chunky bill not apparent here

I have watched many Woodchats, never tiring of their smartness, their willingness to sit out promimently, but also the subtle variations associated with age and geography. The following deals largely with the identification of badius, sometimes known as ‘Balearic Woodchat Shrike’, but the links include many images of other forms throughout the Western Palearctic.

Identification of Lanius senator badius

Plumage

White at base of primaries

The most obvious and best known feature for the separation of badius from other races of Woodchat Shrikes is, on badius, the absence or virtual absence of visible white at the base of the primaries in the closed wing, compared with the extensive white on other races. On the closed wing of 60-70% of adults, both male and female, white is absent; on the remaining 30-40% it is restricted to a small spot on the bases of the inner primaries (pps 7-10). The white at the base of the primaries never extends beyond the tip of the longest primary covert - a comparison might be made between the limited white at the base of the inner primaries of adult Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca and the obvious white extending far beyond the primary coverts of adult Collared Flycatcher F. albicollis. Immatures are also distinct in lacking the pale creamy base to the primaries visible on other races.

small amount of white just visible at base of primaries - this is the maximum extent expected of badius

On other races the white is generally obvious, but care is needed to make sure that the white is not obscured by the secondaries hanging over the inner primaries. Several rutilans in S Portugal have at first glance had remarkably small amounts of white visible, but closer study shows this to be obscured by posture and other feather tracts. The eastern form niloticus has the most white at the base of the primaries, with often a large patch visible even in juvenile plumage.

The lack (or virtual lack) of white at the base of the primaries gives the wing of badius a darker appearance, and this is added to by the very narrow (when fresh) or absent (when worn) pale fringes to the coverts and tertials/secondaries - this is apparent even on quite fresh birds. By as early as April the absence of white fringes to the coverts and tertials is often quite marked and on many specimens is only present as neat white tips to the tertials and secondaries, by late May/June these fringes may be worn off completely.

Narrow black forehead

The narrower black forecrown quoted for badius is a consistent feature on the specimens and is observable in the field, there is some variability and the prescence of a narrow black forehead may be purely indicative. The figures in BWP give 5-8mm in male badius (av. 6.5mm) and 8-14 (av. 10.2mm) in other races; Argeloo and Meijer (1997) give a mean width of 8.8mm in badius and 10mm+ on other subspecies.

narrow black forehead very distinct; note also pale chestnut crown (probably a first-summer female)
female; note the broad black forehead of senator

Crown colour

The rufous of the rear crown and hindneck on male (and possibly females) badius is more orange, a paler more washed out colour than the deep chestnut of senator and niloticus (contra Clement 1995). I have often noted in the field (and this is borne out by study of specimens at Tring) that Portuguese rutilans have crowns that are of a similar colour and tone to badius.

Underparts

Contrary to previous statementsin the literature, the underparts of badius are not diagnostically whiter than both senator and niloticus. They may lack the orange-buff wash of many senator, but specimens from Portugal and many niloticus show similarly white underparts. Indeed, niloticus is a very smart bird due to the whiteness of the underparts, but also the extensive amount of white in the tail.

Structure

Bill

The size and structure of the bill in profile, in comparison with senator, is notably different: badius has an almost ‘square’, deep based bill, compared with a slimmer, less chunky bill in senator. Whether these differences are easily assessed in the field has been questioned, but field observations, detailed examination of photographs and the study of specimens suggests that they are. Similar bill structure differences in shrikes are relatively easy to assess in the field, e.g. the large-billed Tiger Shrike L. tigrinus in comparison to the smaller-billed Brown Shrike L. cristatus in China. Recently, an accidental badius in the UK showed that the large bill is a strong feature.

Some niloticus can have a larger bill than nominate, but it never approaches badius. Quite why badius has such a bill structure, one can only guess. Furthermore, in the field badius can give a bulky and large headed appearance, which with the large bill, is quite impressive.

badius bills © copyright of Museum of Natural History, Tring

Distribution

The breeding range of badius is restricted to the Mediterranean islands between Spain and Italy, from Ibiza in the west to Corsica and Sardinia in the east. It is, however, frequently recorded along the mainland coasts of France, Italy and, less regularly, Spain, particularly overshooting in spring In the case of Italy, a number of records of adults and immatures also exist for the autumn.

Italy
In Italy, badius breeds extensively in Sardinia where there is a large population, still quite healthy in contrast to senator in most of mainland of Italy. Breeding pairs have been found in recent years on some islands off Tuscany (es. Elba, Capraia) - birds may have arrived and colonised probably from the nearby Corsica (visible on clear days). Occasionally, in Tuscany and Lazio adult male badius have been observed singing in suitable habitat in the breeding period, late May-June, sometimes July (Andrea Corso, pers. comm.), though breeding has neither been confirmed nor officially reported. Arrival dates show that badius arrives ten days earlier than senator.

France

On Corsica, badius breeds relatively commonly, often in rough, open grassy landscape, with scattered bushes or near cultivation (pers. obs.). Along the mainland Mediterranean coast of southern France - notably the Camargue region, badius is a relatively frequent visitor. It arrives from the end of March to the end of May, but with at least one record from August

Spain

In the heart of its breeding range, badius is a common breeder and migrant on the Balearic Islands of Ibiza and Mallorca, but it is only a very rare migrant, a 'description species', on the mainland of Spain.

Movement and wintering

Nominte senator and rutilans winter in a broad band from the Gambia and Senegal east to the Sudan west of the Nile, where it meets niloticus, which winters throughout eastern Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, into N Kenya and Uganda, Somalia, with a small popultion in Yemen. Badius winters throughout the southern range of senator, from Sierra Leonne in the west to Nigeria in the east.

There have been several extralimital records on NW Europe, including four in the UK, one in Norway, two in the Netherlands, and at least three in N France.

See More Woodchat Shrike Photos in the Surfbirds Galleries

male senator; note the lack of white in lores and the very broad black forehead

Brian J Small

January 2006

References

Argeloo, M., and Meijer, A., 1997. Balearische Roodkoplauwier bij Voorhout in juni 1993. Dutch Birding 19: 65-67, 1997.

Borrow, N., and Demey, R., 2001. Birds of Western Africa. Christopher Helm

Corso, A., 1997. Balearic Woodchat Shrikes in Britain. Birding World, vol. 10, pp. 152-153.

Clement, P., 1995. Identification of Woodchat Shrike. British Birds, vol. 88, no. 6 pp. 291-295, June 1995.

Cramp, S., and Perrins, C. M. (eds.), 1993. Birds of the Western Palearctic. Vol. 7: Flycatchers to Shrikes. OUP 1993.

Ebels, E., 1997. Balearische Roodkoplauwier bij Knardijk in juni 1983. Dutch Birding 19: 64-65, 1997.

Jenni and Winkler, 1994. Moult and Ageing of European Passerines. Academic Press.

Hartert, E., 1903-1910. Die Vogel der Palaearktischen Fauna 1. Berlin.

Hope Jones, P., 1966. Alauda 34: pp. 228-239.

Lefranc, n., and Worfolk, T., 1997. Shrikes - a guide to the shrikes of the world. Pica Press.

Ree, V., 1976. Rapport fra NNSK's virksomhet april 1975-april 1976. Sterna 15: 179-197.

Rogers, M.J., 1987. Report on Rare Birds in Britain. British Birds, vol. 80, no.11, p 563.

Streseman, E., 1920. Avifauna Macedonia, pp. 108-113.

badius juveniles © copyright of Museum of Natural History, Tring

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