Shrikes of the World (2nd edition)

By Norbert Lefranc and Tim Worfolk 

Bloomsbury, 2022

Hbk, 336pp; many colour plates, maps and photographs

ISBN 978-1-47293-377-5; £47.99


The original version of this book was published in 1997 and, since I’m a bit of a ‘Laniiphile’, the copy that sits on my bookshelf has been heavily thumbed-through to the point of becoming dog-eared. This new edition is greatly updated, with totally new illustrations by Tim Worfolk and substantially revised text by Norbert Lefranc, all of which take into account the work done on the phylogeny and identification of members of the shrike family over the past 25 years. Following the format of other recent Helm identification guides, the new edition of Shrikes now also includes numerous high-quality photographs. I have been looking forward to seeing this book and, from the outset, I can say that I am not disappointed.

This book covers all of the family Laniidae, with English names and taxonomy following BirdLife/HBW, which sees, in contrast to IOC’s treatment of the family, Corvinella and Urolestes subsumed into Lanius. The only slight deviation I found, from both BirdLife/HBW and IOC taxonomy, is the use of the synonym Eurocephalus rueppelli for Northern White-crowned Shrike E. ruppelli. In addition to English and scientific names, vernacular names in six other European languages are given.

The introductory chapters closely resemble the first edition of this book but have been edited, updated and augmented with photos and data from recent studies. An overview of the genera Lanius and Eurocephalusincludes sections on morphology, movements, habitat, general behaviour, breeding, population change, research and conservation. However, this is preceded by a new, highly readable (if brief) chapter on ‘true-shrike systematics’ by Jerome Fuchs, which explains the relationships within Laniidae and explains the order that is (mostly) followed by the illustrations and species accounts. These start with Masked Shrike L. nubicus as the ‘first primary lineage’ with ‘no extant close relatives’ and ends with Iberian Grey Shrike L. meridionalis. The illustrations fall in a subtly different order from the taxonomy, presumably necessary due to plate layouts, and the two species of Eurocephalus are dealt with last in the list.

Shrikes, like so many groups of birds, face ongoing, human-driven pressures and declining populations. Early in the book there are ten pages devoted to examining these pressures. It makes for rather depressing reading but we must applaud any conservation efforts being made to help slow the decline. 

As in the first edition, the illustrations fill the first ‘main’ section of the book. They are completely new and – I hope that Tim does not mind me saying – are, in my opinion, much improved, both in style and in the accuracy of the plumages shown. The latter is largely a reflection of our increased interest in and knowledge of variation within species. For example, the isabelline shrike complex still has eight principal illustrations, as in the first edition, but they give a much truer impression of shape, posture and plumage features. Added to that are a further 20 photos in the species account. Another addition to the second edition are 25 new images showing the open-wing patterns of the grey shrike complex and a further 25 illustrating tail patterns. Mention needs to made of the fine front cover, which brought back memories of searching for Lesser Grey L. minor and Woodchat Shrikes L. senator in Italy with Michele Vigano.

The second ‘main’ section contains the detailed species accounts, and this takes up the bulk of the book. Each starts with a brief paragraph concerning the name of the bird, or who first collected it and where, before continuing with sections that deal with field identification, voice, detailed descriptions, and so forth. Maps are in colour and extremely clear; most species have just one map but, where distribution of various forms is more complicated, additional maps are used. For example, Great Grey Shrike L. excubitor has three maps: one showing the temporal movements of L. e. excubitor, another showing the ranges of the various subspecies and one showing the range of ‘Steppe Grey Shrike’ L. e. pallidirostris. Brown Shrike L. cristatus also has three maps: one for L. c. cristatus/confusus, one for L. c. lucionensis and one for L. c. superciliosus.

The texts are detailed and more or less based on the previous book, though are much improved in places, with the sections in a more coherent order. I was immediately drawn to the texts concerning two shrike groups I have studied a lot: the isabelline shrikes and grey shrikes. In the former, I was pleased to see that they have given Lanius isabellinus the common English name of Isabelline Shrike. The text is well written, the detailed plumage descriptions are accurate and the maps are clear.

The Great Grey Shrike complex is extremely well treated, as well. The initial eight pages concentrate on nominate excubitor – including L. e. homeyeri and L. e. ‘leucopterus’. After this, other subspecies in the complex are discussed more briefly, with each group based on the clades described by Olsson et al. 2010 (The Lanius excubitor (Aves, Passeriformes) conundrum). The texts for each of these clades largely concentrate on distribution, identification features and habitat/ecology. There are numerous photographs of most forms.

This is a fine book; even if you own the first edition, the substantial changes and updates mean that I can highly recommend that you buy this new edition, too.

Brian Small

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