Great Grey Shrike

Lanius excubitor (Linnaeus, 1758) SR GRGSH 15200
Family: Passeriformes > Laniidae

Great Grey Shrike, Graham Catley

This striking, grey, black and white passerine is a winter visitor to UK heathlands in small numbers.

The Great Grey Shrike has always been a scarce winter visitor to the UK. Numbers fluctuate wildly and in some winters fewer than 10 birds might be recorded. Like most birds escaping the frozen north, the numbers occurring here are dependent on the availability of food (small birds and rodents in the case of Great Grey Shrike) closer to their breeding grounds.

In the UK, lowland heathland is the preferred habitat where it is well known for creating larders, typically a thorn bush in which food is stored impaled. Some individuals return to traditional sites, while others are more transient. Consequently the Bird Atlas 2007–11 distribution map based on four winters shows a wider distribution than might be expected in a single winter.

Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Great Grey Shrike

  • Breeding
  • Winter


Great Grey Shrike identification is usually straightforward.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Great Grey Shrike, provided by xeno-canto contributors.


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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



The winter distribution of Great Grey Shrikes is wide but strangely clumped, extending through most of Britain except western Scotland; there were no accepted winter records in Ireland. East coast records often involve late passage birds. Extensive areas of prime habitat, such as the New Forest, Dartmoor, Exmoor and the Thames Basin Heaths, regularly hold more than one active winter territory.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2



Great Grey Shrike is a scarce autumn passage migrant and rare winter visitor. Some individuals are long-staying and may return to the same location year after year.

Weekly occurence of Great Grey Shrike from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.

An overview of year-round movements for the whole of Europe can be seen on the EuroBirdPortal viewer.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Great Grey Shrike ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Great Grey Shrike, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.



Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Feòladair-glas
Welsh: Cigydd Mawr
Catalan: botxí septentrional
Czech: tuhýk šedý
Danish: Stor Tornskade
Dutch: Klapekster
Estonian: hallõgija
Finnish: isolepinkäinen
French: Pie-grièche grise
German: Raubwürger
Hungarian: nagy orgébics
Icelandic: Grásvarri
Irish: Mórscréachán Liath
Italian: Averla maggiore
Latvian: liela cakste
Lithuanian: plešrioji medšarke
Norwegian: Varsler
Polish: srokosz (europejski)
Portuguese: picanço-real-nortenho
Slovak: strakoš velký
Slovenian: veliki srakoper
Spanish: Alcaudón norteño
Swedish: varfågel
Folkname: Butcher Bird, Ash-coloured Shrike

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