Can we be absolutely sure when it comes to telling immature females apart of sibiricus and excubitor?
Taxonomy Lanius borealis sibiricus
English name: Siberian Northern Shrike
Other taxa borealis: Lanius borealis borealis / Lanius borealis funereus / Lanius borealis bianchii / Lanius borealis mollis
Identification Lanius borealis sibiricus
Bland head pattern, little or no supercilium and dark mask behind eye often only weakly present
Upperparts brownish-grey with well developed brown-ochre (yellow) on tips of feathers, most obvious on upperparts and on flanks. Intensity of brown variable. Broad rich buff fringes and tips to greater coverts when fresh. Fringes wear off but broad tips remain into winter, broader then the white fringes in excubitor. Pale rump patch more prominent than many first-winter excubitor. Some first winter female excubitor mooted as similarly ‘brown and barred’, though more research required.
Underparts, weak ochre brown tint with very obvious brownish transverse striations on sides of throat, cheeks, breast, belly and to variable degree in ventral region.
Scapulars brownish-grey with weak paler tips.
White primary patch relatively small maximum length: 53.4-69.5 mm
No white secondary patch, though beware broad pale tipped greater coverts can almost mimic a secondary patch.
Tail feathers variable, often have the least amount of white. Black extensive with up to half of T6 black.
Biometrics: tarsus length apparently averages shorter in sibiricus than in excubitor.
4th primary longer than the 3rd in majority (70% + specimens). In excubitor – 3rd primary longer or = to 4th in majority excubitor (55%)
Distribution Lanius borealis sibiricus
According to Uspensky et al. (1962), Vorobyev (1963), Kishinsky (1968, 1980, 1988) and Krechmar et al. (1978,1991), sibiricus breeds in the east in Koryak Upland, Chukotka and Yakutia. The breeding range of sibiricus therefore reaches much further east than is commonly described in non-Russian literature. Thus, it is possible that the Eurasian and the North American populations are seperated only by the 80 kilometre-wide Bering Strait. In the most likely westernmost area of the sibiricus breeding range, that is, in the forest zone of the Evenkian Mountians east of the River Yenisey, this subspecies occupies the shrubby thickets in river valleys and lake basins together with the ssp. excubitor (Rogacheva 1992). According to Stepanyan (1990) the two subspecies also intergrade in the area. Panow (1995) brings the western border of the breeding range of sibiricus and a narrow hybridisation zone with the ssp. excubitor tot the longitude of Archangel, only about 500-800 kilometres from the Finnish border.
The ssp. sibiricus in the northern parts of his breeding range is probably more a migrant than an eruptive species (Dementiev & Gladkov 1970). It is possible that a much greater number of Great Grey Shrikes of the ssp. sibiricus visit the eastern parts of Europe.
Records Lanius borealis sibiricus (types) in Northwest Europe
There is one DNA confirmed record of a skin from Norway with other candidates from Finland (6), Sweden (2), Germany (skin) – 1) and The Netherlands (skin – 1) spanning the dates 31st October to 2nd March with a peak in November. See locations in map below:
Records of skins Lanius borealis sibiricus (types) from museum collections
05-11-1881 / Hedmark / Norway / 1cy /Lanius borealis sibiricus / Accepted by the Norwegian Bird Committee / Proven with DNA
Information: Lanius borealis sibiricus (Bogdanow) / male juveniel / November 5th 1881 / Hamar, Norway / Collection: L 1130 / Loevenskiold 1947 / Now part of the collection: Univ. Zoologiske Museum, Oslo (Zoological Museum of Oslo)
There are no records of L.e. borealis from Europe but two accepted (Norwegian Rarities Committee) records of L.e. sibiricus from Norway, Both Norwegian specimens are 1st cy birds shot in Hamar (Hedmark county), the first one from 5th November 1881 and the second from 17th October 1891. The first is still in the collection of the Zoological Museum of Oslo. Sebastian Ludvigsen studied this bird and he became convinced that it indeed belongs to the ssp. sibiricus. This record is also sampled by Lars Svensson et al. with DNA and proved it to be one.
When studying the characters of this Hamar bird, the following features were recorded:
-The overall structure and measurements (wings, tail, bill and tarsu) are like those of the ssp. excubitor
-The upperparts are medium brown with no barring or stripes but the crown shows a greyish tone
-The scapular patches are white
-There is a distinct, white rump and a pale, greyish-white vent area
-The underparts are pale grey-brown with a distinct brown barring that does not reach up to the throat
-the mask is small and brown, extending only just behind the eyes and the lores are pale
-The base of the bill is pale brown; the rest of the bill is dark brown to black
-There is a very small white wing-patch the tertials and greater coverts have buff tips
-There is a short, white supercilium above the righyt eye and a less distinct one above the left eye
-The amount of white in the outer tail feathers does not differ from that of a nominate ssp. excubitor
11-1906 / Nuenen / Noord Brabant / The Netherlands /Lanius excubitor excubitor / Collection Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden / Not proven with DNA > see also post
Possible Lanius borealis sibiricus / female / November 1906 / Nuenen, Noord Brabant, The Netherlands
Collection: RMNH 1663 / Naturalis Biodiversity Center, The Neherlands (formerly: ‘s Rijks Museum v. Nat. Hist. Leiden)
I have looked at the photographs of the specimen of a Great Grey Shrike in the Naturalis collection. Regrettably I have not seen and examined this specimen myself during my visit to Leiden, but your photographs are good and many so I get a fair impression of what it looks like. Some measurements would add a little more information, but based on what I see I agree with you that it does look a lot like a sibiricus.
1932 / Helgoland / Germany / Collection Alexander Koenig, Bonn / Lanius excubitor excubitor / Not proven with DNA
To summarise the Nuenen bird and Hamar bird
When you see the pictures below and compare the characters and descriptions with the Hamar bird, the following features can be recorded
-Hamar bird: The overall structure and measurements (wings, tail, bill and tarsu) are like those of the ssp. excubitor
-Nuenen bird: The overall structure and measurements (wings, tail, bill and tarsu) are like those of the ssp. excubitor
-Hamar bird: The upperparts are medium brown with no barring or stripes but the crown shows a greyish tone
-Nuenen bird: The upperparts are medium sandy brown with also a greyish tone. Forehaed is brownish. There are no barring or stripes.
-Hamar bird: The scapular patches are white
-Nuenen bird: The scapular patches are white but is very less present
-Hamar bird: There is a distinct, white rump and a pale, greyish-white vent area
-Nuenen bird: There is a distinct, white rump and a pale, greyish-white vent area
-Hamar bird: The underparts are pale grey-brown with a distinct brown barring that does not reach up to the throat
-Nuenen bird: The underparts are pale brown with a strong brown barring that does not reach up to the throat. On the cheeks there is also some brown barring.
-Hamar bird: the mask is small and brown, extending only just behind the eyes and the lores are pale
-Nuenen bird: the mask is small and brownish, extending only just behind the eyes and the lores are almost pale
-Hamar bird: The base of the bill is pale brown; the rest of the bill is dark brown to black
-Nuenen bird: The base of the bill is pale brown; the rest of the bill is dark brown to black
-Hamar bird: There is a very small white wing-patch, the tertials and greater coverts have buff tips
-Nuenen bird: There is a small white wing-patch, the tertials and greater coverts have white and buff tips
-Hamar bird: There is a short, white supercilium above the righyt eye and a less distinct one above the left eye
-Nuenen bird: There is a short, white supercilium above the eyes and a less distinct one above the bill
-Hamar bird: The amount of white in the outer tail feathers does not differ from that of a nominate ssp. excubitor
-Nuenen bird: The amount of white in the outer tail feathers does not differ from that of a nominate ssp. excubitor
To conclude, the caracters that strongly indicate the Hamar bird to be of the ssp. sibiricus are the sandy brownish and grey upperparts, strong brown barring on the upperparts, light rump, pale base of the bill and the reduced brown mask combined with pale lores. Late autumn individuals of nominate excubitor should already be much greyer, with much less vermiculated underparts, have a full mask and a darker bill. The rump should never be white (although it is sometimes paler than the back).
Field records Lanius borealis sibiricus (types) in Western Europe
02/03-2000 / Turku / Finland / 2cy /Lanius borealis sibiricus / Accepted by the Finnish Bird Committee / Not proven with DNA
Between February 1st and March 22nd 2000, a brown sibiricus-type shrike stayed in Turku, Finland and was observed by hundred of birdwatchers. The main field characterics of this bird are summmarised as follow:
-The general colour of the bird was pale sandy-brown with the upperparts slightly paler than the upperparts. During the moult in late February and March, the back, matle, nape, and the raer part of the crown turned light grey, but the colours of the other parts remained unchanged.
-The brown mask (even during the moult) was located only behind the eyes and the lores were pale brown. There was a faint brownish-white superciliumwhich was diffuse but continued narrowly above the bill to the other eye. The bird seemed to have a brown cap (on the forehead and front crown) when viewed from the front. There was a small white spot on the lower eyelid.
-The bill had a pale, horn-coloured base and dark-grey tip
–The white rump contrasted distinctly with the tal and the sandy brown lower back.
The throat, breast and belly were greyish-white but the flanks showed a brownish tinge. There was scaly pale brown barring on the underparts, exept on the throat and lower belly. The vent was pure white/
-On the clsed wings, there was a small white patch reflecting the wing-panel, which extended only to the primaries. The edges of the greater coverts were buffish.
Other features, such as the lenght of the primary projectio, colour of the legs and amount of white in the outer tail-feathers were similar tot the ssp. excubitor.
To summarise, the Oslo and Turku birds were practically identical. Both were 1st winter individuals with a brown- not grey – general appereance, distinct brown barring on the underparts, reduced brown mask, plae lores, pale base tot the bill, very small single wing-patch and white rump. All these features coincide with what is described as typical for both the ssp. borealis and sibiricus, which – accordiong to many authors (Portenko 1939, Vaurie 1959, Lefranc & Worfolk 1997, Pyle 1997) – are, in fact inseperable from each other.
The bird looks clearly a 1st-winter and not of one of the western forms. Interesting is the facial/head pattern which is very similar to palllidirostris, (which clearly isn`t.) The brown-toned uppers and scaly underparts look really good for sibiricus.
Literature: Perttula, P., Tenevuo, J., Aluda: 2;2002.
Last update is that the Finnish Rarities Committee has decided NOT to deal with sibiricus-type GGSs until any significant new information about their characters, taxonomy & possible hybrids is obtained. Sibiricus-types have been recored less than 10 times. Many of them are well characterized (with photos etc) but the Rarities Committee holds all those records so far under the desk.
03/23-01-2004 / Tosteberga bodar / Skåne / Sweden / Not proven with DNA
30-11-2008 /Yddingen / Skåne / Sweden / Not proven with DNA
31-10 / 08-11-2009 / Länsi Turunmaa / Korppoo / Utö / Finland / Not proven with DNA
Jorma Tenovuo about this individual:
One of the records was made on this island where I live, island of Utö, on Oct 30-Nov 8, 2009. I saw the bird myself but it was hard to photograph because it was very shy and at that time of the year the lights are not that good. I have, however, some low-quality photos which I attach for your information. But – as I said this ind. has not been accepted as a “sibiricus”, at least not yet.
This is also a very sibiricus-like, but note that the bases of the outer secondaries are rather broadly white (according to the literature, sibiricus should have much less white on the secondaries), and that the outermost tail feathers seem to be completely white (according to Svensson, on a sibiricus the white colouration should be mainly limited to the three outermost tail feathers, and at least one fourth of the base of the inner vane of the outermost tail feather should be black). I would believe that the variation of sibiricus is poorly known, as well as possible intergradation with excubitor and homeyeri.
06/08-12-2009 / Helsinki / Seurasaari / Finland / Not proven with DNA
‘This bird is a 1st-winter and not of the western forms. Interesting is its facial/head pattern which is very similar to Lanius lahtora palllidirostris. The brown-toned uppers and scaly underparts look really good for sibiricus.
Photographs © Pasi Pirinen, Pertti Rasp, Andreas Uppstu
30-01-2011 / Mäntyharju / Kinni / Finland / Not proven with DNA
22-02-2013 / Kirkkonummi / Böle / Finland / Not proven with DNA
17-11-2014 / Luvia / Säppi B.O. / Finland / Not proven with DNA
Is it possible to identificate Lanius borealis sibiricus from Lanius excubitor excubitor (female)?
Sibiricus is practically indistinguishable from the North American ssp. borealis (ssp invictus has recently been merged with borealis), and according to a recent mtDNA-based study borealis is indeed closely related with sibiricus (these two subspecies form a potential split)
Still it’s very difficult to be absolutely sure when it comes to telling immature females apart of sibiricus and excubitor. Lars Svensson has commented that some first winter nominate females can look pretty similar
Lars Svensson has commented that some first winter nominate females can look pretty similar, and would prefer DNA-based evidence for certain identification (we have not been able to catch the bird, but a pellet has been collected). However, the general opinion seems to be that the bird differs rather substantially from normal nominate individuals, and that sibiricus is indeed a plausible candidate.
According to the literature sibiricus is practically indistinguishable from the North American ssp borealis (ssp invictus has recently been merged with borealis), and according to a recent mtDNA-based study borealis is indeed closely related with sibiricus (these two subspecies form a potential split).
Miller (1931) recognised two seperate subspecies, borealis and invictus, of Great Grey Shrike in North America based upon careful examination of a impressive 205 skins. Philips (1986), however, synonymised the two subspecies because there are individuals showing a mixture of borealis and invictus characterstics. Pyle (1997) concluded that the differences between the formerly recognised subspecies are slight, broadly clinal, and obscured by individual variation. Miller already knew of the existence of a hybridisation zone. Invictus is bigger and lighter coloured than borealis, but according to Miller (1931) there is one clearly defined difference between the two, namely the rump and uppertail-coverts of invictus, which are pure white while they are grey in borealis. Sibiricus was first described by Bogdanow in 1881, which was the same year an individual of this subspecies was shot near Hamar, Norway (Loevenskiold 1947). That was also the first recorded sighting of sibiricus in Europe outside of Europe. The ssp. sibiricus has never been synonymised wit the nominate ssp. excubitor, even though for a short period in the late 19th century all Great Grey Shrikes with one wing-bar were included in the species L. major (Pallas) and the ones with two wing-bars. This is strange, as we know that Linne’s original desription was of the form with one wing-bar. As late as the mid. 20th century, sibiricus-like individuals of the ssp. excubitor with heavy vermiculations on the upperparts were thought to be genuine members of the variable Norwegian population (Salomonsen 1949). Nowadays, we can say that’s not the reality in Norway or elsewhere in Scandinavia.
Note that the postjuvenile moult of borealis is less extensive than on excubitor, and that a pale mask is retained throughout the first winter.
The Lanius borealis sibiricus in Ukraine
Apparently, meeting Lanius borealis sibiricus in Ukraine is not as rare as it seems at first glance. Now as far as can be judged from museum specimens (Fig. 8), this form was known already to Gavrilenko (1928, 1929) and Šarleman’ (1938). Furthermore, there are collected specimens of L. borealis sibiricus from the adjacent regions of Russia, in particular from the Kursk region (ZMSU).
The Lanius borealis sibiricus is found also far more to the west in different regions of Europe.
Gavrilenko (1928, 1929) mentioned the Siberian Shrike, which he called “L. excubitor major Pall.”, as a winter visitor to the Poltava region, even suggesting that it does not concede in numbers to L. excubitor excubitor. Šarleman’ (1938) mentioned the Siberian Shrike, referred to as L. excubitor rapax Brehm, as a migrant occurring in autumn, spring and winter.
Lanius borealis sibiricus has more extensive white patch at primary base than in Lanius borealis borealis.
Secondaries: fully dusky grey in both (even more than excubitor and more grey than blakish as in 1cy excubitor). Lanius borealis borealis is in general dullier and duskier.
Rump: more often uniform.
Upperparts dusky, while its usually paler, off whitish in Lanius borealis sibiricus.
Tail pattern both taxa quite variable (no matter if more or less white as shown in extreme found).
Compaered to 1winter excubitor, juv. characters more extensive by winter, mostly on lores, primary base white extenzion, and general ochreous -sandy tinge to upperparts.
Ukraine :Seven specimens undoubtedly belonging to L. borealis sibiricus were found in the collections studied. The specimens originated from Kyiv, Cherkasy, Sumy, Poltava, Kharkiv and Kherson regions, as well as from the southern coast of the Crimea. Four of them were collected in November, three were collected in winter.
MNHKNU 12938: male, collected by N. Gavrilenko on 18 November 1921 at Ternovschina Dalnaya, Poltava reg. Decription: brown back, lower body with a well-defined trans- verse striations, rump grayish white, tail feather with central base black, black at the extreme tail takes “patch” third feather, length of the first primary is 68.5 mm, one small “patch” (59.8 mm). Wing formula 4>3>5, 2<6.
MNHKNU 12960 female, collected by N. Gavrilenko on 2 January 1918 in the vicinity of Romney, Sumy reg. (label data). Descritpion: :back brownish-gray, lower body with a well-defined transverse striations, rump gray, black at the extreme tail takes 2/3 of the feather , the length of the first primary is 68.1 mm, one small “patch” (59.0 mm). Wing formula 4>3>5, 2<6.
MNHKNU 18543: male, collected by A. Lisetsky and Volchanetsky on 2 February 1941 in the vininity of Izium, Kharkiv reg. (label data). Description: Morphology: back is dark gray with brown marks on the head and shoulders, lower body with a well-defined transverse striations, rump gray, black at the extreme tail takes third feather , length of the first primary is 71.2 mm, one small “patch” (58.7 mm). Wing formula 3>4>5, 2>6.
NMNH 7323/36: female, collected by N. Šarleman’ on 14 February 1911 at Kurenivka, Kiev, Kiev reg. (label data). Description: back is dark gray with a slight brownish patina, lower body with a well-defined transverse striations, rump gray, black at the extreme 103 tail occupies one third of the feather, the length of the first primary is 69.5 mm, onesmall “patch” (58. 8 mm). Wing formula 4>3>5, 2<6.
SMBT OF-3452/457: unsexed, collected by E. Spangenberg on 7 November 1935 in thevicinity of Alushta, Crimea (label data). Description: the lower part of the body with a well-defined transverse striations , rump gray, black at the extreme tail takes third feather , length of the first primary is 70.6 mm, one small “patch” (61.2 mm). Wing formula 4>3>5, 2<6.
ZISP 162047-425-974: male, collected by L. Portenko on 27 November 1927 at Pocapintsy, Lysyansky dis., Cherkasy reg. Description: back deep gray, black at the extreme tail takes half feather length of the first primary is 72.5 mm., two “patches” (“patch” on secondaries visible only on one wing 57.8 mm) for primaries (“patch” 62.2 mm. Wing formula 3>4>5, 2=6.
NMNH 11979/48: female, collected by an unknown collector on 20 November 1898 in the Kherson Province (label data; specimen badly damaged). Description: back brownish- gray, lower body with a well-defined transverse striations, rump gray, black at the ex- treme tail takes third feather, length of the first primary is 66.6 mm, one small “patch” (61.1 mm). Wing formula 4=3>5, 2=6.
All these birds are “typical” Lanius borealis sibiricus, being markedly different from the dark variants of Lanius excubitor excubitor of the forms “melanopterus, europaeus”. The fact that all mentioned specimens were collected at the end of the 19th – first half of the 20th centuries, is probably associated with the more intensive collecting activities during this period, which has declined remarkably in the second half of the 20th century. It should be noted that such a feature as a wide autumn dispersal in different directions during the early post-breeding migrations (peculiar chiefly to the young birds), is very characteristic for the species complexes of the Grey Shrikes. Naturally, this behavior is more typical for North-Siberian populations, which winter under very continental climate conditions (extreme in some years) and thus are forced to move for very large distances, not only southwards but also in the south-western and western directions.
Tailpatterns Lanius excubitor sibiricus from the collection of Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden
This drawings are part of the collection of BCP (Black Code Project)
1973: male / Lac Baikal (128038)
1873: juvenile / Lac Baikal (128039)
1879: male adult / Russia (128040)
1880: female / Siberia (128041)
Records en pictures of Lanius borealis sibiricus outside the Western Paleartic
1 November 1940 / Bizhe valley / Zhungarskiy Alatau foothills / collected
16 February 1948 / Cheremshanka / western Altai (Kuzmina 1953)
18 September 1956 / Mamlyutka / North Kazakhstan province / collected (Dolgushin 1970)
Note: Records of sibiricus in the Almaty region (3 August 1967, collected) and at Aksu-Zhabagly nature reserve (sine dato, collected) are insufficiently documented and, therefore, omitted.
two photos of 1cy autumn Lanius borealis sibiricus
Two photos taken at Lingshan, Beijing’s highest mountain, about 110km west of Tiananmen
Juvenile Lanius borealis sibiricus. Muraviovka Park, Amur region, Russian Far East, 6 Nov 2011
The Northern Shrike Lanius borealis sibiricus Bogdanov, 1881 (Aves: Laniidae) in Ukraine: a taxonomic assessment1; Svetlana U. Tajkova1 & Âroslav A. Red’kin2 ; nov 2014 Journal of the National Museum (Prague), Natural History Series Vol. 183 (8): 89-107; published on 1 November 2014
Birding Frontiers; Challenge series Winter– Martin Garner, 2015
Birding Mongolia: Birds, birdwatching, biodiversity & conservation — by Axel Bräunlich & Andreas Buchheim / http://birdsmongolia.blogspot.nl/2014/11/more-sibiricus-northern-shrikes.html