HNV Farming & Species

Red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio)

Red-backed shrike

© Photo: F. Grawe

Common name: Red-backed shrike (ENG), Rotrückenwürger / Neuntöter (DE), alcaudón dorsirrojo (ESP), Pie-grièche écorcheur (F)
Scientific name: Lanius collurio
Conservation status: Annex I, Bird directive
Red data book (IUCN): LC (least concern)
Population trend: dramatic decline in the west and north-east of the breeding range between 1970-1990; since then moderate increase in Europe; European population estimated at 6.3 – 13 mio. breeding pairs (BirdLife 2004); estimation for Germany 120.000 – 150.000 pairs (Südbeck et al. 2007)


Red-backed shrike habitat

Widespread breeding bird and summer visitor in most parts of Europe (except British Isles, Iberian peninsula and northern Scandinavia). The global range encompasses large parts of Central Asia in the east. As a migratory species the Red-backed shrike winters in southern Africa.

Habitat requirements

The Red-backed shrike is a characteristic breeding bird of half-open landscapes. Important aspects are the presence of hedgerows or (thorny) shrubs, which are used as nesting and perching sites, a good overall visibility and areas with short vegetation or bare soil offering good accessibility to the preferred prey (e.g. large insects).

Therefore typical habitats of this species are extensively managed grasslands with shrubs or hedgerows, orchards, forest edges and glades.


The most striking feature of the Genus Lanius is the habit of impaling prey items (large insects, small rodents) on thorns. This behaviour fulfills an important role in conserving food for periods of bad weather when insects are unavailable.

The breeding period usually begins in May with a clutch size of 5-6 (max 2-8). The eggs hatch after 14-16 days. After approx. 4 weeks the young are able to hunt for themselves.

Importance of HNV Farmland

Only low-intensity agriculture and the accompanying landcape allowed the Red-backed shrike to extend its range into most parts of Europe. Through forest clearing and small-scale draining of fens and floodplains, areas with otherwise unsuitable microclimatic conditions became inhabitable for this bird. In the resulting unfertilised meadows and pastures large insects, e.g. ground beetles and grasshoppers, which form a vital part of the diet, began to thrive.

This positive influence of human land-use continued until the middle of the 20th century, when intensified agriculture led to the removal of hedges, shrubs and field margins. Furthermore, the widespread application of pesticides reduced the number of potential prey considerably. Last not least, in fertilised grasslands sward structure and fast growth makes foraging for the shrike virtually impossible.

Therefore today, in countries with a highly industrialised agriculture like Germany of France, the Red-backed shrike only occurs in marginal areas of the cultural landscape...

Source: BirdLife International (2011) Species factsheet: Lanius collurio. Downloaded from on 10/03/2011.

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European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism
Date: 2024/06/23
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