Why do great grey shrikes impale their prey?

Ornithologist Mike Toms answers your wildlife question.

Why do great grey shrikes impale their prey?

Great grey shrikes impale their prey on thorns © Education Images / UIG / Getty


Great grey shrikes are known for their habit of impaling prey items on thorn bushes or wedging them into narrow forks. This behaviour is shared with other species of shrike, though not necessarily for the same reasons.

It is thought that impaling larger prey items, such as small mammals and reptiles, may aid the shrike in dismembering the carcass, a process that might otherwise prove difficult.

Supporting evidence is provided by the fact that great grey shrikes frequently feed from the carcass straightaway.

However, small prey items are often treated in a similar manner and, coupled with evidence of birds returning to the kill over subsequent days, it is likely that they are also caching the food in case supplies become thin on the ground.

Caches usually consist of large insects, small mammals, reptiles and birds – there is even a record of a stoat.


Click here to read more of our Wildlife Q&As.

Do you have a wildlife question you’d like answered? Email your question to wildquestions@immediate.co.uk or post it to Q&A, BBC Wildlife Magazine, Immediate Media Company, 2nd Floor, Tower House, Fairfax Street, Bristol, BS1 3BN


We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here