Family Shrikes (Laniidae)

Least Concern

Northern Grey Shrike (Lanius borealis)


French: Pie-grièche boréale German: Taigaraubwürger Spanish: Alcaudón boreal
Other common names: Northern Shrike

Lanius borealis


, 1808,

North America = New York


Traditionally included in L. excubitor, but recent study#R supports treatment as a separate species. Characterized by narrow dark scaling below in adult plumage on a shade darker underparts (3); upperparts tinged ochre (1); and parapatry (or even narrow sympatry) in one area of Mongolia between race mollis and “Steppe Grey Shrike” L. e. pallidirostris#R (3); but anomalous race bianchii, genetically the most differentiated, fails to conform to this plumage pattern, resembling instead L. e. excubitor. In Canada, invictus apparently interbreeds with borealis in NE Manitoba and N Ontario and is sometimes synonymized with it; sibiricus and mollis intergrade in NW Mongolia; funereus sometimes lumped into mollis. Six subspecies provisionally recognized.

What do (1) and (2) mean? Learn more about the scoring system.
Subspecies and Distribution
  • L. b. invictus Grinnell, 1900 – Alaska (except N) and NW & NC Canada (Yukon and Northwest Territories, and extreme N British Columbia E to N Ontario); non-breeding S Canada and most of W & C USA.
  • L. b. borealis Vieillot, 1808 – NE Canada (N Ontario and N & C Quebec E to Labrador); non-breeding SE Canada and C & E USA.
  • L. b. mollis Eversmann, 1853 – CS Russia (Altai and Sayan Mts) and NW Mongolia; non-breeding also N China.
  • L. b. funereus Menzbier, 1894 – S & E Tien Shan (Kyrgyzstan–NW China); perhaps Dzhungarian Alatau Mts and Ketmen Mts (E Kazakhstan)#R.
  • L. b. sibiricus Bogdanov, 1881 – C & E Siberia E to Kolyma Basin, Anadyrland and Chukotskiy Peninsula, S to L Baikal, N Mongolia and SE Russia (N Amurland), possibly also N Kurils (Paramushir I); non-breeding SC Siberia, Mongolia, NE China (S perhaps to N Hebei) and Ussuriland.
  • L. b. bianchii E. J. O. Hartert, 1907 – Sakhalin and S Kuril Is; non-breeding N Japan (Hokkaido, rarely farther S).
  • Descriptive notes

    24–27 cm; 56–80 g. A rather large shrike with medium-length tail; white of scapulars, wings and tail conspicuous in flight. Male has narrow black mask (thin dark... read more


    Song given by both sexes throughout the year, although less often in autumn and winter;... read more


    Breeds in subarctic and Arctic taiga and taiga-tundra ecotone with shrubs and small trees. Avoids... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet varies seasonally. Invertebrates taken mostly in summer (much less often in winter), especially grasshoppers (Orthoptera), beetles (... read more


    In Alaska and Canada, arrives on nesting grounds from early Apr to early May; laying reported between 5 May and 25 Jun; single-brooded, but... read more


    Most populations thought to be migratory. Non-breeding range in New World extends from S parts of... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). No estimates of global population size; numbers thought to be stable, although robust and long-term data on population trends... read more

    Recommended citation

    del Hoyo, J., Collar, N. & Marks, J.S. (2020). Northern Grey Shrike (Lanius borealis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 27 January 2020).