What is a shrike?
Posted onOctober 30, 2023by|, , , , ,
When it comes to the world of feathered predators, you might think of majestic eagles, swooping hawks, or agile falcons. But there’s another avian predator that’s equally captivating, though perhaps not as well-known: the eastern loggerhead shrike. This little one might not be as flashy as its bigger cousins, but it’s got a personality and story that’s worth discovering.
The eastern loggerhead shrike is one of Canada’s most endangered songbirds. Named for its disproportionately large (or logger) head, the loggerhead shrike is a medium sized songbird, slightly smaller than a robin. Like its larger cousin, the northern shrike, loggerhead shrikes use their distinctive hooked bills to dispatch mice, frogs, grasshoppers, beetles and other small prey – making these two species the only truly predatory songbirds.
Since they lack strong talons for grasping their meals, shrikes impale their dead prey on the thorns of shrubs or barbed wire and then tear off manageable chunks with their beak – thus giving their nickname “the butcher bird”.
There are 12 distinct subspecies of loggerhead shrike across North America, all virtually identical in appearance. Two of them, including the eastern loggerhead shrike, occur in Canada.
Eastern loggerhead shrike perched on a branch. Note the tomial tooth on the upper beak. Photo: Ron Dudley
These shrikes like to live in flat, open grasslands with scattered trees and shrubs that offer nesting sites and hunting perches. They can often be found in alvars: unique habitats consisting of shallow soils over limestone bedrock. Elsewhere, cattle ranching and pastures help to keep the grass short for foraging.
The Canadian populations are migratory, although many U.S. populations are not. Where our Canadian eastern loggerhead shrikes spend their winters still remains largely a mystery, though we do speculate they spend their winters down in the southeastern states, anywhere between Texas and Florida. Some even end up staying down south and integrating into the non-migratory populations!
In Canada, they originally could be found anywhere from Manitoba to New Brunswick. Today, they are restricted to several small isolated pockets in Ontario. These pockets include the Carden and Napanee limestone plains, where breeding pairs are consistently located. Individuals or breeding pairs are occasionally spotted on the Smiths Falls plain, in the Pembroke and Renfrew areas, in Grey and Bruce Counties on the Bruce Peninsula, and on Manitoulin Island.
We need your help