From the very first book I ever read about falconry “As the Falcon her Bells” by Phillip Glasier, the Butcher bird or Great Grey Shrike has fascinated me.
In the days of the Old Hawking Club in England, passage hawks were trapped in Holland by hawk trappers living on the plains near Valkenswaard. The Mollen family were probably the most famous falcon trappers, and they would spend hours out on the open plain in small huts made from the peat earth.
Out in front of the hut would be their traps baited with pigeons. On the roof of the hut was a small wooden cage containing a shrike. The purpose of this was to alert the trapper of an approaching hawk, the shrike having a very keen eyesight and also being a hunting bird would give off a shrill noise.
The trappers were often pro-occupied making hoods or mending shoes and their attention was not on their traps. Once the Shrike sounded up the trapper would get his lead pigeon to flap in the hope of attracting the passing hawk.
In China the Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) was used for fun hunting and I am told this happens mostly in Spring. I have yet to witness this and have a reason to return one day to China in the springtime. The smaller brown coloured shrike is an unknown species to me.