Audacious Shrike

Sometimes called the Butcher Bird

Sometimes called the Butcher Bird

Walking in the desert near South Mountain the other day, I noticed a loggerhead shrike peering at me from an overhead branch. Hard to miss, he was boldly marked in grey and white and wore a black mask. The shrike is a songbird, yet hunts like a raptor. Imagine a tidbit of feathers breaking off a string of pretty notes to launch a lethal attack. Without the powerful talons of a bird of prey, how does the shrike do it?

The loggerhead shrike has a big head for a little bird and two tomial teeth. These sharp projections along the upper beak are capable of snapping the spinal cords of prey. The tomial teeth and powerful head allow the shrike to strike and kill mice, squirrels, snakes, lizards and even other birds equal in size to itself.

The bird I saw the other day had yet other prey in mind. In the spring and summer the shrike surveys his territory for large and juicy insects, swoops down and swiftly impales the hapless bugs on sharp thorns. Insect prey may also be stuffed into tight crevices and thus held immobile for immediate consumption, or for storage. It is believed that male shrikes seek to impress females with the size of their food pantries.

A male shrike has an arsenal of tricks to confuse prey, bedazzle females and threaten other males who dare enter his territory. He flashes white wing patches in a flurry of movement to bamboozle a rodent or impress a female. This same wing flutter is combined with whirling, stamping and bowing for various effects. He also sings to entice females or to discourage intruders. He woos his mate with gifts of choice food bits and brings her twigs to suggest nest building.

The mated female weaves a cup shaped nest in a thorny shrub and lines it with soft plants and feathers. Five to six hatchlings will be born naked and helpless with their eyes sealed shut. She may take up later with another male or the same one to produce another brood.

Habitats turned upside down have created havoc with populations of loggerhead shrikes in some areas. The number of shrikes on San Clemente Island in California plunged to just 18 birds in 1996. Read how one man and a shrike called Trampas took on the U.S. Navy to rebuild that population in Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Living Bird Magazine.

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2 responses to “Audacious Shrike

  1. Pingback: Rare shrikes, bee-eaters nest in Dutch nature reserve | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. This Cassanova is indeed a delightful and talented little killer/lover bird….I treasure them and see them so rarely….lucky you to be serenaded by the likes of a shrike!

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