The Lesser grey shrike is one of the non-breeding summer visitors to the southern African region, spending the balance of the year in the process of migrating and in its breeding grounds in Europe and Asia. It is a medium-sized shrike with a length of approximately 21 cm, and has a grey crown and back; a black mask that covers its forehead and the sides of its face; black wings and tail; grey rump; white throat and pale pink to white under parts. Eyes are brown; bill is black; legs and feet are brown or dark grey. The sexes are similar in size, but the females have duller plumage and a narrower face mask than the males.
The Lesser grey shrikes favour the drier areas within the region, being fairly common in Namibia, Botswana and the northern parts of South Africa. It is a solitary bird and is often seen perched on a branch or other vantage point patiently watching and waiting to feed. It usually takes its prey on the ground, swooping down from its perch, although it may also hawk insects from the air. It feeds mainly on insects and termites. Although it may sometimes impale its prey on a thorn or other convenient hook, it does not store food in a “larder”.
The call of the Lesser grey shrike is a harsh “geer-geer-shrik-shrik” often given when chasing intruders from its self-proclaimed territory. It also has a quieter, more pleasant song made up of a warbling chatter.
The Lesser grey shrikes do not breed within the region, although pairs may form during their time in southern Africa.
The scientific binomial for the Lesser grey shrike is Lanius minor; Lanius from the Latin for “a butcher”; and minor from the Latin for “small”. Thus the name describes a small butcher, which captures the bird’s diet, but it is not particularly small as shrikes go.