The Great Grey Shrike is a bird that breeds in the Scandinavian/Russian regions. A small number migrate to overwinter in the UK. The New Forest accommodates a population of 3-6 individuals from October through to March in most years. Ibsley Common (Digden Bottom) was often a regular hunting area for them, especially from late February when the Common Lizards would start to emerge from their winter hibernation, Digden Bottom being a prolific area for these small reptiles. If you are fortunate enough, the shrike can often be seen perched on the tops of small Scots Pine,or Hawthorn using the trees as lookout positions to observe its prey. Unfortunately in the winter of 2014/15 all these trees were removed from Digden Bottom, despite my plea’s to retain, or to ring bark a small number of the pines so the shrike would be elevated enough to detect its prey, also Kestrel, and Merlin take advantage to hunt from them, hence this wonderful bird is very seldom seen anymore in the area.
The Great Grey Shrike is about the size of a Blackbird, and when perched on the tops of a tree or bush, its very light plumage makes it very prominent, allowing it to be seen from quite a distance.
It feeds mainly on small rodents, lizards, small birds, and insects, and has a habit as do most of the shrike species of impaling their prey on a thorn or a sharp pointed twig in a small tree or bush to be eaten at a later time.
Another member of the shrike family is the Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio). Once this was a relatively common summer breeding bird of the New Forest, including in this parish. In the 1950’s there were approximately 50 breeding pairs in the whole of the New Forest, unfortunately this number plummeted down to zero by the 1970’s. The reasons for this dramatic decline is not known, but thought to be due to disturbance, egg collectors, and climate change.