First time birdwatching visitors to southern Africa are often surprised by the mournful call of the Grey-headed Bushshrike (Malaconotus blanchoti). The Afrikaans name for the bird, “Spookvoel”, (literally meaning “ghost bird”) is very descriptive of the sound, a series of drawn out, eerie, ventriloquial uuuuuuuuh or whooooooo whistles.
The bird belongs to the bushshrike family and includes species like helmetshrikes, puffbacks, tchagras and boubous. The distinguishing features of the 25cm long Grey-headed Bushshrike are its grey head, olive-green mantle and back, chestnut eyes and light coloured throat above a brownish-orange breast and yellow belly. It also sports a robust, strongly hooked bill.
It occurs in a band from Senegal to Ethiopia, extending south to large areas of south-central and southern Africa, largely absent from the lowland forests of the DRC and West African coast. It is uncommon in southern Africa, with populations across Zimbabwe, Mozambique, eastern South Africa and small areas of Botswana.
It generally occupies wooded areas, especially miombo, acacia and riverine woodland, where it keeps to tangled growth and dense foliage. It does occasionally move into suburban gardens and alien tree plantations adjacent to indigenous forest.
Grey-headed Bushshrikes live singly or in pairs but never in flocks. They feed mainly on insects (locusts, grasshoppers, bees, wasps, dragonflies, etc), but are also known to catch small snakes, rodents, lizards, geckos and even other bird chicks. They also make larders, impaling prey on thorns and spikes.
The Grey-headed Bushshrike is monogamous, selecting one partner for life. Breeding is in summer when both birds contribute to the construction of the rather untidy nest, usually found in the tree canopy a few metres from the ground. The female lays between 2 to 4 eggs which she alone incubates, while the male undertakes all the hunting and serves her food.
Join us on our famous NBZ Birding tour (Namibia, Botswana & Zambia), to see and hear the Grey-headed Bushshrike and many other fantastic southern African species. For more information, talk to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.