Significance to humans

True shrikes are miniature birds of prey and were generally regarded as harmful up to about the middle of the twentieth century, both in Europe and in North America. This negative reputation was reflected in the writings of hunters and gamekeepers, but also in those of some ornithologists. Shrikes are still hunted by humans in many parts of the world, particularly when they migrate. Many are killed in the Middle East and Greece. In Turkey, numerous red-backed shrikes are caught, blindfolded, and used as decoys to attract and net sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus); the raptors are then trained and used to catch common quail (Coturnix coturnix). In Taiwan, the brown shrike (Lanius cristatus) is caught with bamboo foot traps, killed, sold, and barbecued for tourists visiting a national park.

In the western world, shrikes have gained a better reputation; but the birds are confronted with drastic habitat changes. The decline of shrikes, their beauty, and the fact that they are generally conspicuous and easy to study, has prompted the creation of an International Shrike Working Group. It met for the first time in Florida in 1991 and organizes regular meetings that are followed by the publication of proceedings. So far it has only taken a strong interest in true shrikes, but the other shrike-like birds should not be forgotten. Very little is known about them, but it is obvious that a few species are already endangered. Much of their future will depend on the development of ornithology and conservation measures in Africa.

1. Loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus); 2. Female red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio); 3. Male red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio); 4. Long-tailed shrike (Lanius schach); 5. Yellow-crowned gonolek (Laniarius barbarus); 6. Northern puffback (Dryoscopus gambensis); 7. Gray-headed bush-shrike (Malaconotus blanchoti); 8. White helmet-shrike (Prionops plumatus); 9. Black-crowned tchagra (Tchagra senegala). (Illustration by John Megahan)

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