The Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) is a passerine bird. It is the only member of the shrike family endemic to North America; the related Northern Shrike (L. borealis) occurs north of its range but also in the eastern Palearctic. It is nicknamed the Butcher Bird after its carnivorous tendencies, as it consumes prey such as amphibians, insects, lizards, small mammals and small birds. Due to its small size and weak talons, this predatory bird relies on impaling its prey upon thorns or barbed wire for facilitated consumption. The numbers of Loggerhead Shrike have significantly decreased in recent years, especially in Midwest, New England and Mid-Atlantic areas.
The Loggerhead Shrike is a medium-sized passerine. “Loggerhead” refers to the relatively large size of the head as compared to the rest of the body. It measures approximately 9 inches from bill to tail. The adult plumage of the Loggerhead Shrike is grey above, with a white to pale grey breast and black tarsi and feet. The bird possesses a black mask that extends across the eyes to its bill. The wings are black, with a distinct white patch on the primaries. The tail is black edged with white and the irises are brown.The beak is short, black, and hooked, and contains a tomial tooth to help tear into prey. It is difficult to sex an adult Loggerhead Shrike in the field, as they are sexually monochromatic. However, several studies have reported sexual dimorphism in plumage and size traits. Juveniles possess a paler gray plumage that is subtly vermiculated.
The loggerhead shrike can be distinguished from the northern shrike by its smaller size, darker grey plumage and larger black face mask that covers the eye completely. It also has a shorter bill with less prominent hook. Their calls are similar. [Wikipedia]
The Loggerhead Shrike is a songbird with a raptor’s habits. A denizen of grasslands and other open habitats throughout much of North America, this masked black, white, and gray predator hunts from utility poles, fence posts and other conspicuous perches, preying on insects, birds, lizards, and small mammals. Lacking a raptor’s talons, Loggerhead Shrikes skewer their kills on thorns or barbed wire or wedge them into tight places for easy eating. Their numbers have dropped sharply in the last half-century. [All About Birds]
Loggerhead Shrike Facts [All About Birds]
- A Loggerhead Shrike can kill and carry an animal as massive as itself. It transports large prey in its feet and smaller victims in its beak.
- Loggerhead Shrikes impale noxious prey such as monarch butterflies and eastern narrow-mouthed toads—then wait for up to three days to eat them, which allows time for the poisons to break down. These shrikes also eat the heads and abdomens of toxic lubber grasshoppers, while discarding the insect’s poisonous thorax.
- Loggerhead Shrikes sometimes go hunting on cold mornings, when insect prey are immobilized by low temperatures.
- The longest-lived Loggerhead Shrike on record—a male—was at least 11 years, 9 months old when it was caught and released in 2010 by researchers in California.