Found in the more northerly parts of the southern African region, as well as further north into Kenya and Tanzania, the Magpie shrike is a distinctive bird that is quite hard to miss. It is the only long-tailed shrike in the region and this, together with its striking black and white plumage, makes it unlikely that it will be confused with any other bird. It is quite a large bird, with a length of around 43 cm, but over half of that is made up by its tail. The males and females are similar in size and plumage, although the female has white flanks that are lackng on the male. The bill is black; eyes brown and legs and feet are black.
Preferring open woodland with plenty of acacia trees, the Magpie shrike is a fairly gregarious bird and is most commonly found in small groups of up to a dozen birds. They will often perch in a conspicuous spot and call loudly. They tend to feed on the ground, mainly on insects, small reptiles and even on mice and small birds. They will also hunt from a perch and hawk insects from the air.
The call is a clear fluid “theeu-teewoo” and several birds may call at the same time. Quite often the males and females will call in duet, each contributing a part of the call.
Magpie shrikes are monogamous and make a cup nest which they usually place high up in an acacia tree. The female lays a clutch of two to six yellowish eggs that hatch after an incubation period of about twenty days.
The scientific name for the Magpie shrike is Corvinella melanoleuca; Corvinella from the Latin for “a small crow” and melanoleuca from the Greek for “black and white”. Thus we have a small crow that is black and white. Well, the black and white is accurate, but I wouldn’t have thought it looked remotely like a small crow.