Colours of Wildlife: Gorgeous Bushshrike

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Gorgeous Bushshrike

Willem is a wildlife artist based in South Africa. He says "My aim is simply to express the beauty and wonder that is in Nature, and to heighten people's appreciation of plants, animals and the wilderness. Not everything I paint is African! Though I've never been there, I'm also fascinated by Asia and I've done paintings of Asian rhinos and birds as well. I may in future do some of European, Australian and American species too. I'm fascinated by wild things from all over the world! I mainly paint in watercolours. . . but actually many media including 'digital' paintings with the computer!"

Gorgeous Bushshrike by Willem

Today I bring you a truly gorgeous bird. It's a Gorgeous Bushshrike – that is really its name! Scientifically, it is Telophorus quadricolor or Telophorus viridis, since it is sometimes considered the same species as Perrin's Bushshrike, for which the latter name is the accepted one. There's little difference between Perrin's and the proper Gorgeous Bushshrike, so it makes sense to consider them the same. The species is also known as the Four-coloured Bushshrike, for the black, red, yellow and green in its plumage. It has a somewhat restricted distribution in sub-Saharan Africa, from South Africa into East Africa, and then what was called Perrin's Bushshrike extends westward into Zambia, Angola, the DRC and Gabon. It is a bird of dense vegetation, such as tangled thickets in Savannah or along rivers.

This is both one of the most exhilarating and the most frustrating subjects for birdwatchers! Gorgeous bushshrikes have beautiful, rich, bubbling and popping calls. (Their Afrikaans name 'Konkoit' is onomatopoeic.) These calls are characteristic of their favoured haunts, and if you're in gorgeous bushshrike country, you'll know it. So imagine the excitement of a group of fresh novice birders that hear one calling in a clump of bushes! Your entire group surrounds the clump of bushes and you're all hearing the bird, it's there for sure – but it doesn't show a single feather to anyone! It doesn't matter; you can move in close, to the left, to the right, look up, look down, it doesn't matter! The bushshrike is invisible! And you want to see it, it's so beautiful! But you simply don't, and nothing you do makes any difference. And all the while the bird is blithely calling as if not concerning itself with you and your group at all.

And so the gorgeous bushshrike is a highly-sought, frequently-heard, almost-never-seen species. So it was for me also, for many, many years! On dozens of occasions, I heard the bird, located it, closed in on it – but simply didn't see it. At most, there was a very dim glimpse of a dark shape moving about the deep shadows of densely intertwined twigs and leaves. Not very satisfying! To think that this species is a close relative of the Bokmakierie, which often perches, hops and calls out in the open. But this one values its privacy something fierce. So I wasn't experiencing much hope, when again out in the bush (this time in the Koedoes River Valley) our group heard a gorgeous bushshrike calling in a large fig tree. Same story. Move in close, go in this direction, go in that direction, try to fix the point where the bird must be perching, all with the usual zero result. Resign oneself to yet another non-sighting. And then �

And then, for several seconds, the gorgeous bushshrike had a stroke or something and forgot how to gorgeous bushshrike. It amazingly and stupidly (considering what it was) flew from the leafy fig tree to a straggly bush nearby, perching on one of the thin branches, showing its entire body from beak to tail! I couldn't believe it! It was just a couple of meters away. I drank in its gorgeousness. And then it realized what it had done, and disappeared into a denser part of the bush. End of sighting � but still!

Gorgeous bushshrikes are part of the Bushshrike Family, the Malaconotidae. Despite the name, they are not closely related to the true shrikes, the family Laniidae. They are closer to the Vangas (mainly from Madagascar but with a few African and Asian species), and several other families mainly of the Oriental and Australasian bioregions. Bushshrikes are small to mid-sized perching birds, living in savannah, scrub, reed and sedge marshes, thickets, tangles and forest – but not frequently in tall lowland rainforest, more species inhabiting riverine or montane forests. All bushshrikes are hunters of small critters, mostly insects and other invertebrates, only the largest types occasionally targeting vertebrates like small lizards, snakes, amphibians, birds or rodents. Unlike the true shrikes, they never impale their victims.

Other than their extremely elusive behaviour, gorgeous bushshrikes are quite typical members of the family. Females are similar to males. Juveniles are mostly greenish-yellow, only getting the bold pattern at (or after) sexual maturity – some have been seen breeding while still in immature plumage. They hunt for insects in the leafy canopies of trees and bushes. They are territorial birds mostly encountered singly, though sometimes several males will be heard calling close to each other, competing for female attention. They make neat cup-nests, well-hidden amongst tangled vegetation and most clutches are of two eggs. Both sexes care for the chicks, which fledge at about 12 days age. This species is patchily but widely distributed, and in no present danger of extinction.

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