The Common Fiscal (Lanius collaris) is a member of the shrike family found through most of Sub-Saharan Africa. It is also sometimes named Fiscal Shrike, as well as "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 21"?23 cm long passerine 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 and white tips on the other feathers. The bill, eyes and legs are black. 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.
The adult Common Fiscal is distinguished from other black-headed fiscals by the back and tail pattern, if those are well seen. In that case it only be confused with the Fiscal Flycatcher, although the white wing bar is restricted to the lower wing of the latter, which also lacks the heavy hooked shrike bill of the Common Fiscal.
Juveniles offer more identification challenges. A likely source of confusion is with the juvenile Red-backed Shrike, the main differences being
- the lack of a white eyebrow, which is present in the juvenile Red-backed Shrikes,
- barring on the belly instead of the crescent marks present in the juvenile Red-backed Shrike,
- a browner back than the rufous back of the Red-backed Shrike.
The Common Fiscal is usually solitary and hunts insects and small rodents 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 fiscal to reduce its territory size and allow more birds in the affected range.
The Common Fiscal lives in a wide range of habitats from grassland with fences for perching to acacia thornveld or even woodland, but avoids very dense habitats where its hunting would be impaired.
It gives a jumbled mix of shrike-like swizzling sounds including some imitations and a harsh Dzzzttt-dzzzt-dzzzt alarm call.