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the web of life in southern Africa

Malaconotus blanchoti (Grey-headed bush-shrike) 

Spookvoël [Afrikaans]; Umbhankro [Xhosa]; uHlaza (also applied to Orange-breasted bush-shrike) [Zulu]; Spookklauwier [Dutch]; Gladiateur de Blanchot [French]; Graukopfwürger, Riesenbuschwürger [German]; Picanço-de-cabeça-cinzenta [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Passeriformes > Family: Malaconotidae

Malaconotus blanchoti (Grey-headed bush-shrike)  Malaconotus blanchoti (Grey-headed bush-shrike) 

Grey-headed bush-shrike, Marloth Park, South Africa. [photo Lorinda Steenkamp ©]

Grey-headed bush-shrike, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Peet van Schalkwyk ©, see also scienceanimations.com]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in a band from Senegal to Ethiopia, extending south to large areas of south-central and southern Africa, largely absent from the lowland forests of the DRC and West African coast. It is uncommon in southern Africa, with populations across Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Limpopo Province, KwaZulu-Natal (marginally into the Eastern Cape) and small areas of Botswana. It generally occupies wooded areas, especially Miombo, Acacia and riverine woodland, but it occasionally moves into suburban gardens and alien tree plantations adjacent to indigenous forest.

Distribution of Grey-headed bush-shrike in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  


An adaptable hunter, it will eat almost any animal that it can catch and kill, ranging from small insects to large 1 metre long snakes and other bird chicks. It often gleans prey from leaves and branches, either eating them immediately or impaling them on a thorn to be eaten later. Prey items which are to large to be swallowed are ripped into bite-sized pieces. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Both sexes construct the nest, the male collecting material and giving it to his partner, who incorporates it into the structure. This consists of a flimsy shallow cup made of leaves, grass stems and twigs, lined with rootlets and other soft plant matter. It is usually placed in a deciduous tree branch fork, about 3-6 metres above ground. It may also use abandoned nests of doves, turacos and goshawks.
Malaconotus blanchoti (Grey-headed bush-shrike)  

Grey-headed bush-shrike female at its nest, Nylsvley area, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Egg-laying season is from about August-January, peaking from September-November.
  • It lays 2-4 eggs which are incubated solely by the female, while the male brings her food.
  • The chicks are brooded during the night and early afternoon by one their parents (usually the female, but the roles are sometimes reversed); the male does all of the hunting. The chicks stay in the nest for about 20-24 days, after which they remain in their parent's territory for up to a year.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.