The bushshrikes are smallish passerine birds. They were formerly classed with the true shrikes in the family Laniidae, but are now considered sufficiently distinctive to be separated from that group as the family Malaconotidae.

This is an African group of species which are found in scrub or open woodland. They are similar in habits to shrikes, hunting insects and other small prey from a perch on a bush. Although similar in build to the shrikes, these tend to be either colourful species or largely black; some species are quite secretive.

Some bushshrikes have flamboyant displays. The male puffbacks puff out the loose feathers on their rump and lower back, to look almost ball-like.

These are mainly insectivorous forest or scrub birds. Up to four eggs are laid in a cup nest in a tree.

Flickr - Rainbirder - Yellow-crowned Gonolek (Laniarius barbarus) (1)
A yellow-crowned gonolek (Laniarius barbarus) in Gambia
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Corvoidea
Family: Malaconotidae
Swainson, 1824



Bock has posited that the family name Malaconotidae was first used by William John Swainson in 1824, however this is disputed by Storrs Olson, who reports that Swainson used the term Malaconoti as a non-defining plural, and placed the genus within the Thamnophilinae within the shrike family Laniidae.[1] Peters regarded the group as a subfamily, Malaconotinae, of the shrikes. In 1971, the group was raised to family status, with their resemblance to typical shrikes considered to be more a result of convergent evolution.[2]

Bushshrikes, helmetshrikes (Prionopidae), ioras (Aegithinidae), vangas (Vangidae) and the Australian butcherbirds, magpies and currawongs (Cracticidae) and woodswallows (Artamidae) are part of a large group of shrike-like birds distributed from Africa to Australia, which have been defined as the superfamily Malaconotoidea by Cacraft and colleagues in 2004.[3] Previously, bushshrikes and helmetshrikes have been considered part of the Old World shrike (Laniidae) family, based on shared characteristics including a hooked bill.[4] However, analysis of behavioral and molecular characteristics places Malaconotidae closer to Platysteiridae and Vangidae, suggesting that the birds of the family Laniidae are only distant relatives.[5]

An intron-comparison study by Fuchs et al. in 2004 provided strong support for the monophyly of the Malaconotidae, but the relationships between the genera of the family remain unclear.[4] The genus Nilaus is morphologically more similar to Prionopidae than the rest of the bushshrike family is,[5] but the results presented by Fuchs et al. place it within Malaconotidae. This placement is supported by DNA/DNA hybridization data as well as studies of hind limb musculature.[6] The genus Dryoscopus consists of six small species with similar coloring, which may be closely related to birds of the genus Tchagra.[4] The genus Malaconotus consists of six species which have been traditionally believed to be closely related to Telophorus due to similar coloration, but new analyses suggest a close relationship between Malaconotus and Dryoscopus and Tchagra.[4] Strong evidence exists for the monophyly of the genus Laniarius, and Fuchs et al. suggest the its closest relatives are the genera Telophorous and Rhodophoneus, but the exact relationships are unclear.[4]


Bushshrikes are small to medium-sized passerines, with short, rounded wings and strong legs and feet. Plumage is typically black, grey, and brown, with some yellow and green. Some bush shrikes have red undersides or red throat-patches.[7]

Distribution and habitat

Bushshrikes typically inhabit forest margins or patches of bush in savannah.[2] Some species have been known to inhabit coffee plantations.[8]


Slate-colored Boubou, Serengeti
Laniarius funebris, the slate-colored boubou, mates in monogamous pairs. It has been suggested that songs of this species are triggered more by behavioral cues than by hormone levels.

Bushshrike diets consist mainly of large insects, but occasionally may include wild fruits and berries[7] and sometimes rodents.[4] They catch their prey by gleaning among tree foliage.[2]

Their nests are generally small and neat, and they lay clutches of 2–3 eggs.[2]

Bushshrikes have distinctive harsh or guttural calls,[7][8] which may be sung as duets. Male and female birds are able to learn songs of similar complexity, and both sexes have similarly-sized repertoire.[9] Songs may be sung to indicate territory or as part of courtship. A 1992 study of the calls of Laniarius funebris found that a male's likelihood of singing a mating song was correlated with his mate's estradiol levels, rather than his own testosterone levels, suggesting that behavioral cues between a mating pair, rather than hormone levels, are most important in triggering mating songs.[10]

List of species in taxonomic order

Image Genus Living Species
Brubru, Nilaus afer, at Pilanesberg National Park, Northwest Province, South Africa (29688553686) Nilaus Swainson, 1827
Dryoscopus gambensis (Malaconotidae) (Northern Puffback) - (male), Mole National Park, Ghana Dryoscopus F. Boie, 1826 – puffbacks
Marsh Tchagra, Luita, DRC (6700728549) (cropped) Bocagia Shelley, 1894
Black-crowned Tchagra, Tchagra senegala Tchagra Lesson, 1831 – tchagras
Crimson-breasted Shrike, Laniarius atrococcineus, at Pilanesberg National Park, Northwest Province, South Africa (43247381430) Laniarius Vieillot, 1816 – boubous and gonoleks
Rhodophoneus cruentus -Buffalo Springs National Park, Kenya-8 Rhodophoneus Heuglin, 1871 – rosy-patched bushshrike
Chlorophoneus sulfureopectus (6308727070) Chlorophoneus Cabanis, 1850
Telophorus zeylonus Telophorus Swainson, 1832
Grey-headed Bushshrike (Malaconotus blanchoti) in tree Malaconotus Swainson, 1824


  1. ^ Olson, Storrs L. (1995). "Review of History and Nomenclature of Avian Family-Group Names. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, Volume 222". The Auk. 112 (2): 539–46. doi:10.2307/4088759.
  2. ^ a b c d Lovegrove, Roger (2010). Shrikes. Helm Identification Guides. A&C Black. p. 11. ISBN 1408135051.
  3. ^ Cracraft, Joel, Barker F. Keith, Braun, Michael, Harshman, John, Dyke, Gareth J., Feinstein, Julie, Stanley, Scott, Cibois, Alice, Schikler, Peter, Beresford, Pamela, García-Moreno, Jaime, Sorenson, Michael D., Yuri, Tamaki, Mindell, David P. (2004). "Phylogenetic relationships among modern birds (Neornithes): toward an avian tree of life". In Cracraft J, Donoghue MJ (eds.). Assembling the tree of life. New York, New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 468–89. ISBN 0-19-517234-5.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Fuchs, Jérôme; Bowie, Rauri C.K.; Fjeldsa, Jon; Pasquet, Eric (2004). "Phylogenetic relationships of the African bush-shrikes and helmet-shrikes (Passeriformes: Malaconotidae)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 33 (2): 428–439. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2004.06.014. PMID 15336676.
  5. ^ a b Harris, Tony (2000). Shrikes & Bush-shrikes: Including wood-shrikes, helmet-shrikes, flycatcher-shrikes, philentomas, batises and wattle-eyes. A&C Black.
  6. ^ Sibley, C.G. et Ahlquist, J.E. (1990). Phylogeny and Classification of Birds: A Study in Molecular Evolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  7. ^ a b c Stuart, Chris; Stuart, Tilde (1999). Birds of Africa. Cambridge: MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-19430-9.
  8. ^ a b Ryan, P. G.; Sinclair, I.; Cohen, C.; Mills, M. S. L.; Spottiswoode, C.N.; Cassidy, R. (2004). "The conservation status and vocalizations of threatened birds from the scarp forests of the Western Angola Endemic Bird Area". Bird Conservation International. 14: 247–260. doi:10.1017/S0959270904000322.
  9. ^ Gahr, M.; Sonnenschein, E.; Wickler, W. (1998). "Sex Difference in the Size of the Neural Song Control Regions in a Dueting Songbird with Similar Song Repertoire Size of Males and Females". The Journal of Neuroscience. 18 (3): 1124–1131.
  10. ^ Schwabl, Hubert et Sonnenschein, Edith (1992). "Antiphonal duetting and sex hormones in the tropical bush shrike Laniarius funebris". Hormones and Behavior. 26 (3): 295–307. doi:10.1016/0018-506X(92)90001-C.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)

External links

Black-fronted bushshrike

The black-fronted bushshrike (Chlorophoneus nigrifrons) is a passerine bird of the bushshrike family, Malaconotidae. It inhabits forests mainly in East Africa. It forms a superspecies with the many-colored bushshrike (C. multicolor) and the two are sometimes considered to be a single species.

Bocage's bushshrike

Bocage's bushshrike (Chlorophoneus bocagei), also known as the grey-green bushshrike, is a species of bird in the family Malaconotidae. It is found in Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forest and subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest.


The bokmakierie (Telophorus zeylonus) is a bushshrike. This family of passerine birds is closely related to the true shrikes in the family Laniidae, and was once included in that group. This species is endemic to southern Africa, mainly in South Africa and Namibia, with an isolated population in the mountains of eastern Zimbabwe and western Mozambique.

It is a species of open habitats, including karoo scrub, fynbos and parks and gardens in urban areas. The bulky cup nest is constructed in a hedge, scrub or tree fork. The 2-6, usually three, red-brown or lilac-blotched greenish-blue eggs are incubated by both sexes for about 16 days to hatching, with another 18 days to fledging.

The adult bokmakierie is a 22–23 cm long bird with olive-green upperparts and a conspicuous bright yellow tip to the black tail. The head is grey with a yellow supercilium, and the strong bill has a hooked upper mandible. The underparts are bright yellow with a broad black collar between the throat and breast, which continues up the neck sides through the eye to the bill. The legs and feet are blue-grey. The sexes are similar, but juveniles are a dull grey-green below, and lack the black gorget.

There are four subspecies, differing mainly in colour shade and size. Although the species as a whole is not threatened, the isolated dark subspecies restrictus in the Chimanimani Mountains numbers only about 400 birds.

The bokmakierie has a range of loud whistles and calls, often given in duet, but the most typical is the one that gives this species its name, bok-bok-mak-kik.

Unlike the true shrikes, which perch conspicuously in the open, the bokmakierie is shy and skulking. This bird has a typical shrike diet of insects, small lizards, snakes, small birds and frogs. It is preyed upon itself by snakes, mongooses, and large shrikes like the northern fiscal and southern boubou.

Doherty's bushshrike

Doherty's bushshrike (Telophorus dohertyi) is a colourful but skulking species of bush-shrike of the family Malaconotidae which is found in forest habitats in north-central Africa.

Fiery-breasted bushshrike

The fiery-breasted bushshrike (Malaconotus cruentus) is a species of bird in the family Malaconotidae.

It is found in equatorial Africa, from Sierra Leone to western Uganda.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forest and subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest.

Gabela bushshrike

The Gabela bushshrike (Laniarius amboimensis) or Amboim bushshrike is a bird in the family Malaconotidae. It is a reclusive and enigmatic bird, and it is not quite resolved whether it should better be considered a distinct species or a well-marked subspecies of Lühder's bushshrike. It is endemic to Angola.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests. It is threatened by habitat loss.

Gorgeous bushshrike

The gorgeous bushshrike (Telophorus viridis) is a species of bird in the Malaconotidae family. It is also known as the four-coloured bushshrike. Some use the name gorgeous bushshrike for the subspecies Telophorus viridis viridis only.

Green-breasted bushshrike

The green-breasted bushshrike (Malaconotus gladiator) is a species of bird in the family Malaconotidae. It is found in western Cameroon and adjacent Nigeria.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist montane forests and subtropical or tropical high-altitude grassland. It is threatened by habitat loss.

Grey-headed bushshrike

The grey-headed bushshrike (Malaconotus blanchoti) is a species of bird in the Malaconotidae family.

It is widespread throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, although relatively absent in Central and Southern Africa.

Its natural habitats are dry savannah and moist savannah.

Lagden's bushshrike

Lagden's bushshrike (Malaconotus lagdeni) is a bird species in the bushshrike family (Malaconotidae) native to Africa. It is a stocky bird with yellow or orange-yellow underparts, olive green upperparts, a grey head and heavy bill. Two subspecies are recognised, one found in west Africa and one in central Africa.

Lühder's bushshrike

The Lühder's bushshrike (Laniarius luehderi) is a species of bird in the Malaconotidae family. It is found in Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. The common name and Latin binomial commemorate the German naturalist ornithologist W. Lühder.

Many-colored bushshrike

The many-colored bushshrike or many-coloured bushshrike (Chlorophoneus multicolor) is a species of bird in the bushshrike family, Malaconotidae.

It is found in West Africa and also in western, northern parts of Central Africa and the eastern Congo Basin. The black-fronted bushshrike (C. nigrifrons) of southern and eastern Africa is sometimes included in this species.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, and subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

Monteiro's bushshrike

Monteiro's bushshrike (Malaconotus monteiri) is a species of bird in the bush-shrike family (Malaconotidae). It is found in Angola and Cameroon.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests. It is probably threatened by habitat loss like other birds in its range, but its actual status remains unknown due to its elusiveness.

Mount Kupe bushshrike

The Mount Kupe bushshrike (Chlorophoneus kupeensis) is a species of bird in the family Malaconotidae. It is endemic to Cameroon, where it is found in the Bakossi Forest Reserve and in particular on Mount Kupe.

Olive bushshrike

The olive bushshrike (Chlorophoneus olivaceus) is a species of bird in the family Malaconotidae.

It is found in Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forest, subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest, subtropical or tropical moist montane forest, and subtropical or tropical dry shrubland.

Orange-breasted bushshrike

The orange-breasted bushshrike or sulphur-breasted bushshrike (Chlorophoneus sulfureopectus) is a species of bird in the family Malaconotidae.

It is widespread throughout Sub-Saharan Africa (relatively absent from most of Central, Southern and the Horn of Africa).

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, dry savanna and moist savanna. Another species, Braun's bushshrike, is sometimes called orange-breasted bushshrike, as well.

Red-naped bushshrike

The red-naped bushshrike or red-naped boubou (Laniarius ruficeps) is a species of bird in the Malaconotidae family, which is native to the dry lowlands of the eastern Afrotropics.

Rosy-patched bushshrike

The rosy-patched bushshrike (Rhodophoneus cruentus) is a species of bird in the Malaconotidae family. It is monotypic within the genus Rhodophoneus.

It is found in Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and Tanzania.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical dry shrubland.

Uluguru bushshrike

The Uluguru bushshrike (Malaconotus alius) is a species of rare bird occurring only in the Uluguru Mountains in Tanzania. It was discovered in 1926 and was known to be confined to a single site in the Uluguru North Forest Reserve of about 84 km². However, in March 2007, a team of Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania discovered its presence in the Uluguru South Forest Reserve in Morogoro Region.


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