email a friend
printable version
Grey-crested Helmet-shrike Prionops poliolophus
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

This species is listed as Near Threatened because it is thought to have a moderately small population which is experiencing a moderately rapid and ongoing population decline, owing to the destruction and degradation of its habitat for agriculture. Evidence that the species has a small population or is undergoing a rapid population decline may qualify it for uplisting to a higher threat category.

Taxonomic source(s)
Dowsett, R. J.; Forbes-Watson, A. D. 1993. Checklist of birds of the Afrotropical and Malagasy regions. Tauraco Press, Li
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

Prionops poliolopha Collar and Andrew (1988)

Easily confused with the much commoner Prionops plumatus. The Grey-crested Helmet Shrike P. poliolophus is larger, lacks a yellow wattle around the eye, has a tufty grey crest on the hind-crown and a blackish spot on the side of the breast (Bennun 1994). The blackish spot on the side of the breast is probably the best single feature for distinguishing this species in the field. 24-26 cm. A flocking, black, grey and white shrike. An obvious black and white shrike with obvious, long grey crest and very large white wing stripe. At close range it shows a yellow eye lacking yellow wattles. Similar spp. The race policephalus of White Helmet-shrike is similar but smaller, has yellow eye wattles and a white, not grey crest. Voice Bill snapping and various churring and clickings sounds. Hints Most frequently encountered in the Serengeti and Mara Parks.

Distribution and population
Prionops poliolophus occurs in a restricted area of south-west Kenya and adjacent areas of northern Tanzania (Zimmerman et al. 1996, L. Bennun in litt. 1999). One study, in one of the best-watched areas of Kenya, indicated that it was genuinely scarce, and that it might have an extremely large foraging range when not breeding (Bennun 1994). However, other reports indicate that it is quite common in the extreme north of the Serengeti National Park, and that the Rift Valley population is both large and widespread (D. Turner in litt. 1999).

Population justification
The population size of this species has not been quantified, but it is described as generally scarce.

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be in decline owing to ongoing habitat destruction.

It occupies open woodland with Acacia dephanolobium and Tarconanthus, riparian woodland with A. xanthophloea, A. abyssinica and Protea and wooded grassland and bushland, at 1,200-2,200 m (Fry et al. 2000). It is a social, gregarious species, occurring in focks of up to 12. It is a cooperative breeder, with all members of a group, including juveniles, helping with breeding activities (Malaki et al. 2008). The nest is cup-shaped and made of grass and spiders' webs. The species is largely sedentary, but following breeding some foraging parties move north-east in the Rift Valley from the presumed Mara-Narok breeding area to Lake Nakuru National Park, Longonot, Naivasha and Menengai Crater and remain there during October-February (Fry et al. 2000). In a study at Lake Naivasha sixteen nests were found between September-December and were exclusively placed in A. xanthophloea and T. camphoratus (Malaki et al. 2008).

Increasing densities of livestock and cultivation of marginal land are degrading the species's habitat (L. Bennun in litt. 1999). Two groups of birds observed in Lake Nakuru National Park in 2008 appeared to contain hybrids with White-crested Helmet-shrike P. plumatus, suggesting that hybridisation may potentially represent a new or previously unnoticed threat (N. Borrow in litt. 2008).

Conservation Actions Underway
Its range is peripheral to most protected areas, but the buffer zones of the Masai Mara National Park (Kenya), which are currently managed in a similar way to the main reserve, should contain this species. It also occurs in Lake Nakuru National Park (Fry et al. 2000) and Serengeti National Park (D. Turner in litt. 1999), at least. Conservation Actions Proposed
Carry out range-wide surveys to obtain information on its overall distribution and population size (L. Bennun in litt. 1999). Survey the population around Lake Naivasha as soon as possible, to assess its distribution and numbers (L. Bennun in litt. 1999, D. Turner in litt. 1999). Monitor population trends through regular surveys. Monitor the extent of habitat loss and degradation. Increase the area of suitable habitat that has protected status.

Bennun, L. 1994. Threatened birds of Kenya, 6: Grey-crested Helmet Shrike. Kenya Birds 3(2): 84-87.

del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Christie, D. 2009. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 14: Bush-shrikes to Old World Sparrows. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Fry, C. H.; Keith, S. 2000. The birds of Africa vol. VI. Academic Press, London.

Malaki, P.; Muchane, M.; Balakrishna, M. 2008. Notes on the nesting and breeding behaviour of the Grey-crested Helmet-shrike Prionops poliolophus around Lake Naivasha, Kenya. Scopus 28: 41-45.

Zimmerman, D. A.; Turner, D. A.; Pearson, D. J. 1996. Birds of Kenya and northern Tanzania. Helm, London.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Evans, M., O'Brien, A., Shutes, S., Starkey, M., Symes, A., Taylor, J.

Baker, N., Bennun, L., Borrow, N., Fanshawe, J., Stronach, N., Turner, D.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Taylor, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Prionops poliolophus. Downloaded from on 24/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 24/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Grey-crested helmet-shrike (Prionops poliolophus) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Malaconotidae (Helmetshrikes, bushshrikes and puffbacks)
Species name author Fischer & Reichenow, 1884
Population size Unknown mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 52,600 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- Projected distributions under climate change