Shrike caches: beetle species on left, caterpillar species on right. Photo: Alexandra Israel
On the subject of reptiles as shrike prey… just last week I was monitoring a pair of loggerhead shrikes to see what they were up to. I observed one bird carrying nesting material to her probable nesting site, and I watched as she delicately placed each stick to her preferred orientation when constructing her nest. In the meantime, her boyfriend was out and about hunting insects, no doubt preparing for the busy days ahead feeding his young. I watched as he landed in a nice open area of prairie smoke (a common wildflower seen here), and he appeared to “wing-flash” repeatedly. “Wing-flashing” is a behavior seen in a few different species of birds (ex. Northern mockingbirds are known to do this as well), and it’s essentially when the bird will flick its wings outward to flash their bright white wing patches! It’s been suggested that this may startle any insects hiding in the grass, so the bird can snatch them up for a good meal. However, after watching the bird continually wing-flash for a few minutes, I realized something even MORE cool was happening here…
As I watched closely, I noticed the bird was battling a snake! Not just a small one, either… it was a snake that appeared to be about twice the body length of the bird! Eventually, the battle between shrike and snake came to a close, and the shrike had won. The shrike picked up the snake in his beak, and carried his prize away and out of sight – I presume he took the snake to impale on a thorn somewhere so he could eat his snack a little bit easier (see photo series).
We are still in the early days of the loggerhead shrike breeding season here in Napanee. Many of the pairs here are either incubating or have just started incubating their eggs. Our team is looking forward to watching these shrikes become successful parents in the coming weeks!
Napanee Biologist – Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Program
Alex completed her Master’s degree in Biology at York University, where she studied nest concealment in Wood Thrushes and how it might influence nest success in this Species at Risk. Alex also volunteers much of her time at Long Point Bird Observatory, where she assists with their migration monitoring program each year.