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The bull’s head shrike, a lovable carnivorous bird

“Through the Lens,” Fujingaho Magazine, December 2020

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Photos and text: Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado

English translation: Asia Club, a WBSJ volunteer group (YOKOYAMA Kazuko, KASE Tomoko, Ueno Naohiro)

It seems that the fall foliage season comes quite late in these years. While I was remembering my childhood, we enjoyed colored leaves from October to November. Lately, trees on lowlands only change color in December. So this month I would like to show you some photos of the bull-headed Shrike Lanius bucephalus, one of the typical autumn birds.

The bull head shrike is a carnivorous songbird that lives in open habitats such as river beds and farmland and feeds on insects, amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals. everything that lives near the ground. Its bulging eyes are really cute, but a closer look at the bird reveals that its beak is the same shape as that of a bird of prey. For this reason, it is called “Mozu-Taka” in Japan, where Mozu is the Japanese name of the Bull-Headed Shrike and “Taka” is the generic name for larger birds of prey. The bull head shrike is a resident bird in many areas where it is common and known to the locals.

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One of the bird’s most commonly observed characteristics is its tough, scratchy reputation. Every year, around the beginning of October, when autumn colors predominate, it shouts and explains its territory. And since not only local residents but also migrants and even recently adult teens are showing territorial behavior, the scene is pretty busy as the birds rearrange their territory. What is unique enough is that male birds also claim territory in winter, so it is very likely that you will come across these species at this time of year.

Bull's head shrike: female © HIH Princess Takamado

Another interesting feature is a behavior called “hayanie” in Japanese, which is observed from fall through winter. The bird impales part of its prey on the pointed tips of branches or thorns of trees and on barbed wires in its area to create “hayanie”, which means quickly prepared prey. This behavior is seen in other birds as well and has been considered “food-cache behavior” to carefully keep prey.

However, in the past year interesting results from Dr. NISHIDA Yusuke, the specially appointed lecturer at Osaka City University, et al. According to their research, it was found that male bull’s head shrugs only produce hayanie during non-breeding seasons and eat almost all of it before the breeding season arrives. The more “hayanie” a male bird makes and eats, the faster and more beautifully it can sing in courtship performances and thus becomes more popular with women, which leads to earlier mating. In other words, it made it clear that for a male bull-headed shrike, “hayanie” is not only a food cache, but also a diet to enhance their song.

Bull's head shrike: female © HIH Princess Takamado

An enormous number of living things on earth have both social and biological adaptations. Because they are so numerous, new insights must emerge almost every day. In fact, I make a habit of taking some time to devote myself to the joy of acquiring the most up-to-date knowledge by reading research based on years of study and hard work by scientists and specialists.

We have learned a lot about COVID-19 this year. For COVID-19, discovery, study, evolution, and adaptation are things we all have yet to do. It is no longer someone else’s business. I don’t want to make irresponsible comments about new knowledge. Instead, I will try to expand my own knowledge and, from now on, make the most of it in my activities by sincerely accepting and deliberating it.

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