Physical characteristics

Bush-shrikes are a mixed group with at least seven genera. Malaconotus bush-shrikes are large birds (9.1-9.8 in [23-25 cm]) with a strong bill and beautiful, bright colors. Their upper-parts are mainly olive-green and their underparts may be green or, more often, yellow with red or orange. A marked polymorphism occurs in the fiery-breasted bush-shrike (M. cruen-tus). Some species of the genus Telophorus are very similar,

but are smaller and have a weaker bills. The many-colored bush-shrike (T. multicolor) shows yellow, orange, red, buff, and even black morphs; the very rare Mount Kupe bush-shrike (T. kupeensis) measures about 8.7 in (22 cm), is mainly gray with a distinct black face-mask, a white throat, and a yellow vent. The birds of the genus Laniarius are robust, medium to large (6.7-9.8 in [17-25 cm]), with black or mainly black upper-parts; their underparts may be black, white, red, orange, or yellow. Dryoscopus species are somewhat similar, often with a pied coloration; contrary to all the species mentioned above, they show a more or less strong sexual dimorphism. Their English name, puffback, is due to the fact that they can erect the thick, fluffy feathers of their back and rump into a puff. Tchagras are medium to large in size (6.3-9.1 in [16-23 cm]) with gray or gray-brown upper-parts, chestnut wings, black-streaked head, and a rather long, graduated tail; the sexes are similar, except in the marsh tchagra (Tchagra minuta), which is sometimes placed in its own genus. The brubru (Nilaus afer) is small (about 5.5 in [14 cm]) with a pied plumage; its white eyebrow is characteristic, and most races show rufous flanks. The strange white-tailed shrike (Lanioturdus torquatus) (5.9 in [15 cm]) is also pied with long legs and a very short, white tail.

Helmet shrikes (Prionops) are small to relatively large (7.5-9.8 in [19-25 cm]) with a fairly stout bill. Their plumage is generally contrasted, and white, black, and gray are often the dominant colors. The bill is most often white, but can be red in some species. The group is characterized by the presence of stiff, bristle-like feathers on the forehead and, in most species, by a colored wattle around the eye. The two very similar Eurocephalus species are plump and relatively large

(7.5-9.8 in [19-25 cm]); their plumage is pied and buffy, and their snow-white crown has given them their English name of white-crowned shrikes.

In the true shrikes, the two Corvinella species are large and long-tailed. The yellow-billed shrike (C. comma) (12 in [30 cm] including tail, or 7 in [18 cm]) has a brown, vermiculated plumage and resembles a giant, juvenile Lanius shrike. The magpie-shrike (C. melanoleuca) (18 in [45 cm] including tail, or about 12 in [30 cm]) is almost completely black with white scapulars and wing patches. Lanius shrikes are small to relatively large birds (5.9-11.8 in [15-30 cm]). The smallest is the central African Emin's shrike; the largest is the high-elevation race giganteus of the Chinese gray shrike (L. sphenocercus). All Lanius bear the "highwayman's mask," which can extend well over the bill. The most common colors in the plumages are black, white, and various shades of gray and brown; however, deep chestnut, yellow, or even orange, can occur. One of the most brightly colored Lanius is the race tricolor of the Asian long-tailed shrike (L. schach). Males and females are often quite similar; sexual dimorphism is only very obvious in a few species and particularly in the red-backed shrike. Young birds are typically brown and heavily vermiculated.

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