16 December 2007

Brown Shrike Sighting!

Today, I'm going to share with you a truly remarkable experience I witnessed lately.

Certainly, it was an early Christmas treat. It happened not on a "midnight dreary," and though I was a bit tired, I wasn't "weak and weary," nor preoccupied with some "curious volume of forgotten lore." Yes, I came home early that late afternoon, and was preparing to have a nap, but instead of a sudden "tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door," what I heard was a familiar loud shriek. It was the sound of a mouse crying for help! And it was coming from the back of my house where I have a modest garden.

I hurriedly got up, and went to the back of my house where the kitchen is. My kitchen has glass windows and from there I can see everything happening in the garden. There, on top of a leafless branch of a hibernating bougainvilla, was a small brown bird hovering. In its claws, a struggling mouse was trying its best to break free. It was a vain attempt, I thought, because some of the bird's sharp claws were piercing the abdomen of the poor mouse. Suddenly --- and this surprised me, too --- the bird slammed the mouse on a protruding thorn of a branch of the bougainvilla. I think the thorn pierced the rib cage of the mouse, and I can only speculate what vital organ was hit. The bird then perched on the same branch, and patiently waited as its hapless captive went into death spasms. Then, like a fine diner in some gourmet restaurant, it began its splendid feast by taking meticulous bites. Slowly and piece-by-piece, morsels of mouse meat were deliciously consumed by the triumphant hunter. Later, the mouse was disemboweled, and its lifeless figure gradually became unrecognizable.

As if awakened from a dream, this was the moment when it dawned on me that I should be recording this terrific Discovery-channel-event happening right in the very heart of my shabby garden.

I got my camera and rapidly took pictures:

After a detailed research and consulting the gallery of birds I found on the website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP), I found out that the small brown bird I saw is a Lanius cristatus, more popularly known among seasoned bird watchers as the Brown Shrike. Here are other interesting facts I now know about this awesome raptor:
  1. The Brown Shrike is a migratory bird. It is originally from eastern Siberia, China, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, and parts of central Asia. During the winter months, the Brown Shrike flies south to Taiwan, the Philippines, and other southeast Asian countries. It has also been seen in Australia (1988), in North America (1977) and Western Europe(1985).

  2. Features - about 20 centimeters long, face has the characteristic "black-mask," making it look somewhat like a Zorro-type of bird; its back is grayish-brown while the abdomen is white, its bill is short, heavy, and curved, the tail is long and is shaped like a thinly folded fan made of dark-to-red brown feathers.

  3. Behavior - low, swift flier; a true raptor and carnivore, hunting its prey which can include small snakes, rodents, birds and insects; likes to perch on high points to get a good look of its hunting ground; also known to hang its food on tree branches while eating it.

  4. From observation, I suspect that the Brown Shrike I saw in action was a female. Why? Because judging from images 4 and 5 below, the bird did not really eat all of the remains of its victim. Instead, it took its head off and flew away. It's possible that it will be bringing home the bacon, right? It must be a thoughtful mother going to a nearby home nest to feed her baby brown shrikes.

I also learned that bird-watching can be an exciting hobby. Previously, I mistakenly thought it was boring. As an added surprise, I discovered that even if one is living in a cosmopolitan area like me, I can also enjoy the beauty of nature and wildlife right inside my abode. Thanks to the punishing bitterness of cold winter in the north, birds like the Brown Shrike found time to visit the house of a tired physician like me, and in the process, gave me the great and direct experience of witnessing one of the wonders of the animal kingdom.

  1. Expert bird photographer and WBCP member Romy Ocon has confirmed that this is indeed a female Brown Shrike. I am elated that I correctly identified my first wild bird sighting.

  2. Another confirmation came from WBCP Executive Committee member Mike Lu. It is indeed a female Brown Shrike! But he corrects my observation that the brown bird is female because I presumed it's a thoughtful mother. No way! It is because of the barrings on its breast. I presume male Brown Shrikes do not have those.

7 reactions:

joyce said...

Inasmuch as it's a bit gory, I must admit that this is amusing! Who would think that a seemingly harmless bird can tear a mouse apart?

bayi said...

Fantastic sequence of pictures, just like those in the National Geographic!

Congratulations, Dr Emer! Your research into the subject shows your passion.

cathy said...

wow amazing.

Anonymous said...

ms brown shrike to little mousey, "yummy!"

MegaMom said...

This is so cool! I wish I had the time, and more importantly the inclination for such endeavors. Let me just live vicariously off you, and mooch off from your experiences. :)

Dr. Emer said...

JOYCE - looks are always beguiling.

BAYI - it was pure serendipity, my friend.

CATH - indeed!

MARI - its one mean bird, i tell you!

MEGAMOM - hello! i also do not have the time, but the fates seemed to have blessed me on that day. =)

PoorMousie said...

Awesome account! Quick thinking on the camera, too. Now if only we'd have a couple of those visiting us regularly, there'd be no need for Dora!