Southern Fiscal (Fiskaallaksman)

Posted on the 7th July 2022

So what do you call it? Southern Fiscal, Jackie Hangman, Common Fiscal, Fiscal Shrike, or maybe the Butcher bird?

Whatever you like to call it, this bird is found throughout Southern Africa and is classified as of ‘least concern’. It is fairly distinctive with white underparts and black upperparts. The bird has a characteristic white ‘V’ on its back and a long black tail. The eyes and legs are black, and the bill is thick and slightly hooked.

This bird can usually be found perched on a pole or exposed on a high branch, and swoops down quickly to catch its prey on the ground. There is a big range of prey including insects, reptiles, other birds and rodents.

The shrike is known for grasping the neck of larger prey (such as mice and birds) with its beak, pinching the spinal cord to induce paralysis, and then vigorously shaking the prey with enough force to break its neck.

It has the habit of impaling its prey on barbed wire, thorns or other sharp objects. It may also wedge prey into the crook of a tree branch if no spiky item is at hand.

Why do they do this?

It is believed that this is a way of stabilizing its food so it can tear off pieces more easily. Also, it’s a way of creating a food store and stashing food away for later consumption, especially in times when fresh prey is scarce.

So, the next time you find a small bird or mammal impaled on the wire or a thorn it’s highly likely you have found the larder of a ‘butcher bird’.

Words and images by Steve Peck 







































































































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