Red-backed shrike and great grey shrike

Bandit-masked male

A male red-backed shrike, photo Eero Haapanen

The great grey shrike (Lanius excubitor) is purely a winter bird in Helsinki. It nests in bogs up in the north. Viikki is visited every winter by a solitary great grey shrike, which usually stays in the area from October to April. The bird is easy to spot as it perches atop a tree at the edge of the field, searching for prey.

In the winter, the great grey shrike preys on small mammals and birds, storing surplus prey animals by impaling them on thorny plants. The majority of great grey shrikes migrate, but a few of them overwinter in Finland.

The red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio) is a bird usually found in sun-baked forest clearings and at the edges of meadows on hot summer days. It needs dense rose bushes, junipers or piles of twigs to make its nest in. It hunts by spotting large insects from the top of a high perch, also snatching viviparous lizards and frogs when the opportunity arises.

The red-backed shrike often doesn’t arrive in Finland until early June, and migrates away as early as September. The impressive-looking male sports a black bandit mask, a blue-grey crown and a reddish brown back. The female and fledglings are brownish.

Shrikes are solitary birds, similar to birds of prey. They don’t form flocks, except with their broods in late summer. The red-backed shrike is not a city bird, preferring to nest in secluded sites instead. They can be seen at the edges of pastures in Viikki and in the meadows of the Kuninkaansaari fortress island next to Vallisaari island.