The butcher-birds are the best-known members of this fraternity. Undoubtedly passerine in structure, shrikes are as indubitably raptores by nature. They are nothing less than pocket hawks.
Their habit is to sit on an exposed perch and pounce from thence on to some insect on the ground. The larger species attack small birds.
Four species of butcher-bird may perhaps be classed among the common birds of the Himalayas; but they are inhabitants of the lower ranges only. It is unusual to see a shrike at as high an elevation as 6000 feet. In consequence they are seldom observed at hill stations.
It is true that the grey-backed shrike does occur as high as 9000 feet, but this species, being confined mainly to the inner ranges, does not occur at most hill stations.
The bay-backed shrike (Lanius vittatus) is a bird rather smaller than a bulbul. Its head is grey except for a broad black band running through the eye. The wings and tail are black and white. The back is chestnut red and the rump white.
The rufous-backed shrike (L. erythronotus) is very like the last species, but it is a larger bird. It has no white in the wings and tail, and its rump is red instead of being white.
The grey-backed shrike (L. tephronotus) is very like the rufous-backed species, but may be distinguished by the fact that the grey of the head extends more than half-way down the back.
As its name indicates, the black-headed shrike (L. nigriceps) has the whole head black; but the cheeks, chin, and throat are white.
Butcher-birds are of striking rather than beautiful appearance. They have some very handsome relatives which are known as minivets. Every person must have seen a company of small birds with somewhat long tails, clothed in bright scarlet and black--birds which flit about among the trees like sparks driven before the wind. These are cock minivets. The hens, which are often found in company with them, are in their way equally beautiful and conspicuous, for they are bright yellow in those parts of the plumage where the cocks are scarlet. It is impossible to mistake a minivet, but it is quite another matter to say to which species any particular minivet belongs. The species commonly seen about our hill stations are Pericrocotus speciosus, the Indian scarlet minivet, and P. brevirostris, the short-billed minivet. The former is 9 inches long, while the latter is but 7½. Again, the red of the former is scarlet and that of the latter crimson rather than scarlet. These distinctions are sufficiently apparent when two species are seen side by side, but are scarcely sufficient to enable the ordinary observer to determine the species of a flock seen flitting about amid the foliage. This, however, need not disturb us. Most people are quite satisfied to know that these exquisite little birds are all called minivets.