Animal of the High Desert - Loggerhead Shrike
It looks like a songbird. It sounds like a songbird. It even
flies like a songbird. But it doesn’t hunt like a songbird. It hunts
like a hawk, kind of a raptor wannabe. Demonstrating a boldness and
ferocity not usually found in songbirds, the loggerhead shrike well
earns his nickname “butcherbird.”
The Loggerhead Shrike gets its name from its comparatively large
head. Its robin-sized body is gray, black and white. The Loggerhead
Shrike’s most distinctive feature is the black mask which extends
around the eyes and down into the forehead.
Shrikes are the only songbirds to consistently prey on vertebrate
animals. Loggerheads are aggressive hunters, eating insects,
reptiles, small mammals, and birds. How does the shrike — a songbird
that, unlike raptors, has weak feet, no talons and a small beak —
capture and kill its prey?
The Loggerhead Shrike, which has very keen eyesight, uses
telephone poles, tree branches or fences as perches to locate prey.
Once discovered, the shrike drops onto its prey from the perch or
pursues the prey until it's tired, then hits and stuns it. Shrike
have a strongly hooked bills for gripping flesh, and a strong
cutting tooth or "tomial" near the bill tip that helps sever the
spinal cord of its prey. Then, carrying prey as heavy as its own
body in its feet, the shrike finds a spot where it impales its prey
on a thorn, cactus spine, or barbed wire to hold it while the shrike
rips it up to eat. These methods of killing are adaptations to
compensate for the shrike’s lack of heavy talons and strong feet
that allow raptors to hold prey while biting off edible bits.
a shrike caches its prey for later feeding. The cache is often
hidden on thorns in bushes where other animals aren't likely to
steal them. A male shrike may also store dead creatures for his mate
close to where she is nesting. And in mating season, a male shrike's
cache many contain a large number of victims to impress a female and
to stake out his territory.
Loggerhead Shrikes were once abundant, but populations in North
America have declined drastically through last half of 20th century.
In Idaho, they are listed as a Species of Special Concern. The
shrike prefers to live in the grasslands with open areas to search
for prey and scattered trees for cover. Much of its preferred
habitat, land once abundant in cattle ranges, has either been
planted to crops or grown into young forests.
Loggerhead shrikes are doing well on the Idaho NERP. Numbers counted
in ESER’s annual Breeding Bird Survey have been fairly consistent
since 1985, with an average of. 33 birds counted each year. In
ESER’s 2006 survey, 38 loggerhead shrikes were tallied.