About The Loggerhead Shrike


Shrikes in North America

Although shrikes are songbirds, they behave like birds of prey. Their Latin name, Lanius, means butcher, and shrikes are often referred to as “butcher birds” because they easily kill their prey with sharply hooked, raptor-like beaks, and then impale their prey on sharp thorns.

Shrikes are believed to have originated in Africa. Today, they are found on every continent except Australia, South America and Antarctica. However, only two species of shrike occur in North America: Northern Shrike (Lanius excubitorides) and Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus). Both species likely descended from Siberian shrikes that traveled at different times to North America across the Bering Strait land bridge during the Pleistocene era. 


LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES

The Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) is a carnivorous songbird found only in North America. It is sometimes called the “butcher bird” because of its habit of impaling its prey on thorns or barbed wire.

Appearance

Loggerhead Shrikes have a large head and a hooked, raptor-like bill.  They sport gray upper-parts and white under-parts, a distinctive black face mask, and black wings with a prominent white wing patch. Although they are easily confused with the Northern Shrike (Lanius excubitor), the Loggerhead is smaller (210 mm or 8 inches long) and weighs 45–55 g (1.6–1.9 oz) and its mask extends above its beak.

LIFESPAN

Up to 13 years in the wild!

AGE AT FIRST BREEDING

1 year

SYSTEMATICS

The Loggerhead Shrike is the only species of “true shrike” (Subfamily Laniinae, Family Laniidae) native to North America. Miller (1931) proposed 11 different subspecies based on variation in the color and pattern of their plumage. However, other experts have questioned the validity of some subspecies.

A recent taxonomic review analyzed genetic data from Loggerhead Shrike populations in California, Mexico and the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains and supports Miller’s designations. However, it found that Loggerhead Shrikes in northeastern North America, from the Virginias north to Ontario, are a distinct, previously undescribed subspecies. This subspecies has provisionally been named L. l. alvarensis.

 

 
 Photo credit: Larry Kirtley

Photo credit: Larry Kirtley