Northern Shrike: Medium shrike with gray upperparts,pale gray underparts. Mask is black with white border, bill is heavy and slightly hooked. Wings are black with white patches. Tail is long, black, and white-edged. Legs and feet are black. Flight is swift and undulating on shallow rapid wing beats.
Range and Habitat
Northern Shrike: Breeds from northern Alaska south to central Quebec, northern Manitoba and northern British Columbia. Migrates south in winter as far as central and southwestern U.S. Prefers forest edges, open willow brush, and brush-bordered swamps and bogs.
A large taxonomic order of one hundred eighteen families of birds that includes the flycatchers, thrushes, and vireos, the PASSERIFORMES (pronounced pas-ser-i-FOR-meez) also includes the shrikes.
The shrike family, Laniidae (pronounced lan-EYE-uh-dee), is composed of thirty-three species of shrikes in four genera found in North America, Eurasia, and Africa.
In North America, there are three species of shrikes in one genus that have occurred. One species, the Brown Shrike, is a vagrant from Asia while the other two, the Northern and Loggerhead Shrikes, are residents.
Shrikes, including the Loggerhead and Northern Shrikes, are most well known for their habit of impaling dead prey items such as grasshoppers, mice, and even small birds on thorns or barbed wire. Their habit of storing food in this manner has earned them the nickname of “butcherbird”.
Shrikes are small to medium sized perching birds with a stocky head, short wings, and a long tail. They have strong legs and feet to help with seizing prey, and a distinctive strong, hooked bill that has a tooth-like notch in the upper mandible for cutting the spinal cord of small vertebrate prey.
North American shrike species have brownish and white plumage as juveniles (and as an adult in the Brown Shrike), while adult plumages of the Northern and Loggerhead Shrikes are gray on the upperparts with a black mask, and white on the underparts. The wings and tail are black and white and the legs and bill mostly black.
The two resident shrike species in North America range throughout much of the continent, although they are uncommon birds in most regions. In the north, the Northern Shrike breeds in the transition zone between the boreal forest and tundra, and winters south to the central United States. The Loggerhead Shrike is a bird of warmer climates that mostly breeds in the southern United States, also ranging north into Canada in the Great Plains. Both species utilize grasslands and other open habitats.
Both resident North American shrike species are short distance migrants.
Shrikes are solitary birds. Among the most predatory of passerines, they hunt by watching for prey from perches that offer good vantage points such as power lines, fence posts, and the tops of trees. Once a mouse, small bird, or insect is spotted, they swoop down to grasp the prey item and snap its neck with their bill. The prey item is then carried to a roost for eating or storage for later use.
Many shrike species have undergone declines around the world for undetermined reasons. In North America, the decline of the Loggerhead Shrike in many areas of its range may be attributed to such factors as pesticide use, loss of habitat, and susceptibility to being hit by cars due to their affinity for roadsides and flying close to the ground.
Unlike the two resident North American species, the Brown Shrike is a long distance migrant in Asia. During migration between Siberia and Thailand, birds occasionally get lost and have ended up in Alaska and California.