The Common Fiscal (Lanius collaris) is a member of the shrike family. Otherwise also referred to as Fiscal Shrike, it is found through most of Sub-Saharan Africa. It is also sometimes named a Jacky Hanger due to its habit of impaling its prey on acacia thorns to store the food for later consumption.
This is a fairly distinctive perching bird with white underparts and black upperparts extending from the top of the head down to the tail. The bird has a characteristic white ‘V’ on the back and a relatively long black tail with white outer feathers. The bill, eyes and legs are black.
The adult male and female could only be confused with Fiscal Flycatcher, although the white wingbar is restricted to the lower wing of the latter, which also lacks the heavy hooked shrike bill of Common Fiscal. Adult male and female Common Fiscals are quite similar except for the rufous lower flank of the female.
A western race is distinct in showing a clear white eyebrow.
Juveniles offer more challenging id issues. A likely source of confusion is with juvenile Red-backed Shrike, the main difference being
- the lack of a white eyebrow which is present in juvenile Red-backed Shrikes,
- barring on the belly instead of crescent marks present on juvenile Red-backed Shrike,
- and a browner back than the rufous back of Red-backed Shrike.
Usually seen singularly and hunts insects and even small mice from an exposed perch or the tops of shrubs. Territorial size is directly related to the density of hunting perches. Installing more artificial perches causes the bird to reduce its territory and allow more birds in a specific range.
A wide range of habitats from grassland with fences for perching to Acacia thornveld or even woodland. Avoids very dense habitats where hunting would be impaired.
Status and distribution
Common throughout southern Africa except Mozambique and extreme northern Zimbabwe.
A jumbled mix of shrike-like swizzling sounds including some immitations. Also a harsh “Dzzzttt-dzzzt-dzzzt” alarm call.