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Prionops retzii (Retz's helmet-shrike, Red-billed helmet-shrike) 

Swarthelmlaksman [Afrikaans]; Urhiana (generic term for helmet-shrike) [Tsonga]; Retz-klauwier [Dutch]; Bagadais de Retz [French]; Dreifarbenwürger, Dreifarb-brillenwürger [German]; Atacador-de-poupa-preta [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

Prionops retzii (Retz's helmet-shrike, Red-billed helmet-shrike) Prionops retzii (Retz's helmet-shrike, Red-billed helmet-shrike) 

Retz's helmet-shrike, Kunene River Lodge, Namibia. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Retz's helmet-shrike, Zululand. [photo Johan van Rensburg ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs from Tanzania and Uganda through Angola to southern Africa. Here it is fairly common in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Limpopo Province, KwaZulu-Natal and the Caprivi Strip. It breeds in tall deciduous woodland, such as Miombo, Mopane and Burkea woodland, with non-breeding birds moving in to a wider variety of habitats, including suburban gardens, Acacia savanna and riverine forest.

Distribution of Retz's helmet-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.  

Brood parasites

It has been recorded as host of the Thick-billed cuckoo.


It mainly eats invertebrates, doing most of its foraging in the tree canopy, gleaning prey from leaves and branches. It occasionally joins mixed species foraging flocks, along with Chestnut-fronted and White-crested helmet-shrikes, drongos, orioles, tits and woodpeckers.  The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • It is a monogamous cooperative breeder, meaning that the breeding pair are helped by their siblings and/or youngsters from the previous year's breeding season, thus forming a group. They are territorial, noisily defending themselves against other groups and predators.
  • The nest is a small cup built of bark, grass and lichen bound together with spider web. Nest construction duties are usually shared quite equally between the group members, although the breeding pair sometimes do more than the others.
  • Egg-laying season usually begins with the miombo (Brachystegia) tree coming to leaf, around October-November.
  • It lays 3-5 eggs, which are incubated by all group members for about 17-20 days.
  • The chicks are brooded, fed and guarded by all members of the group, changing shifts once every 11 minutes or so. The brood stay in the nest for about 20 days, becoming fully independent about 7 months later.


Not threatened internationally, but population numbers may be decreasing in Zimbabwe, due to the fragmentation of Miombo (Brachystegia) woodland.


  • 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.