The cool winter mornings in the bushveld are currently being greeted by the somewhat mournful call of the Grey-headed Bush-Shrike (Malaconotus blanchoti).
The Afrikaans name, “Spookvoel”, is very apt and super descriptive of this sound. It is noticeably vocal at first light, calling from its perch as if encouraging the rest of the Ingwelala camp to start its day.
If you look carefully at the Grey-headed Bush-Shrike you will notice the distinguishing features are its grey head and back, chestnut eyes and light coloured throat. Both sexes display the same plumage. It measures about 25 cms in length. Other like sized birds belonging to its family group is of course Bush-shrikes, Helmet-shrikes and Boubous.
The Grey-headed Bush-Shrike chooses to be monogamous, selecting a life partner for breeding. However, it will find a new partner should the original mate die. Breeding is in summer when both birds contribute to the construction of the nest, usually found in the tree canopy. The female lays between 2 to 4 eggs which are green in colour and she alone incubates the eggs, while the male undertakes all the hunting and serves her food.
Grey-headed Bush-Shrikes live singly or in pairs but never in flocks. Locally these birds enjoy living in Mopane woodlands feeding mainly on insects, but are also known to catch small snakes, lizards, bats and other bird chicks. The species has a wide range through sub-Saharan Africa.
“Roberts – Birds of Southern Africa, 7th Edition” offered the main source of this data. It lists The Grey-headed Bush-Shrike as bird number 751.