Whether in flight, hiding in bushes or climbing through branches – nowhere is safe when you’re on this versatile bird’s menu. Andre Koen witnessed its adaptability first hand when he caught the grey-headed bush shrike feasting on a toad.

The grey-headed bush shrike (Malaconotus blanchoti) is a versatile hunter, and will eat almost any animal that it can catch and kill. This includes mainly insects such as butterflies, bees, wasps, locusts and ants – but snakes of up to 1 metre and the chicks of other birds also occasionally find themselves on the menu. Prey is either hawked aerially (caught in flight) or gleaned from leaves and branches. If eating does not commence immediately, the prey is impaled on a thorn to be dined on later. Prey items that are too big to be swallowed whole are ripped into bite-sized pieces.

Occuring widely in sub-Saharan Africa, the grey-headed bush shrike is mainly found in forests both light and densely wooded, especially where there are mopane trees. Despite its large size and bright colours, this grey-headed beauty is often overlooked in the wild due to its tendency to remain hidden in foliage.

It is among the trees at Tranquil Nest Lodge, some 20km from Mapungubwe National Park, that Andre Koen spotted a grey-headed bush shrike having a toad for breakfast. He says he had no trouble capturing this breath-taking moment as the bush shrike was so focused on its prey that he paid no mind to Andre’s presence.

A truly remarkable bird, the grey-headed bush shrike’s beauty is matched only by its tenacity when the time to hunt for food is at hand (or rather: at claw).


About the photographer

Andre Koen’s first camera (and the one he still uses) was a birthday gift intended for his wife, but his newfound love for photography and regular usage of the camera eventually persuaded her to officially hand it over to him. He has a deep appreciation for wildlife and the outdoors.

As a Wild Card member and due to his proximity to Mapungubwe National Park, Andre is living any wildlife photographer’s dream. He captures nature in all its glory – including birds, animals and the rising and setting of the sun.

About the photo

These dramatic images were taken on a Nikon D3000, mounted on a tripod and equipped with a Sigma Telephoto lens 50-500mm.