By Pompie Burger
Crimson-breasted Shrike, Laniarius atrococcineus
Roberts No 739
People often say the Crimson-breasted Shrike looks like the German flag. I must confess that I have no idea what the German flag looks like, but I can’t imagine that it’s anything as good-looking as this beautiful bird. Come to think of it, how can any bird look like a flag?
The Crimson-breasted species is probably the most colourful and striking of all the shrikes. Its impressive red chest makes it almost impossible not to identify it. In fact, its specific name atrococcineus literally means ‘black with deep red’.
The piercing duet between the male and female is typical of the shrike family (Laniarius).
Once heard, it is never forgotten. The male calls first, then the female follows within a split second, so that it sounds like a single birdcall. The purpose of the duet call is still uncertain.
Crimson-breasted Shrikes are highly territorial. I’ve often watched a pair at a certain place in one of our game parks and on subsequent visits found them at the same spot.
They move around actively and with great agility in their territory, continually changing their positions.
They are thus the bird photographer’s dream species.
Most of their foraging is on the ground where they have a species typical upright posture. Their diet consists mainly of ants and a wide range of insects, and they sometimes eat fallen fruit.
They are one of Namibia’s trademark birds and certainly one of the most well-known. They occur throughout the country, except in the south and the dry western regions, and are classified as endemic to south-western Africa. Avian researchers call them near-endemic acacia specialists, because their distribution reflects the occurrence of most acacia species, although the more dense acacia woodland is their preferred habitat.
About the author:
Based in Windhoek, Pompie Burger is an orthopaedic surgeon whose part-time passion is photography, in particular wildlife, and specifically birds. This regularly takes him to the most remote corners of the country, resulting in riveting images and articles.
Pompie is the author and photographer of the coffee table book Birds of Namibia, which was published in 2008. The book contains articles and photographs which attest to the insight and knowledge of an accomplished observer.
Read more of his articles in our Birding Section.
This article appeared in the May/June ‘06 edition of Travel News Namibia.