The Loggerhead Shrike is a medium-sized songbird, about 20 cm long and weighs 48 grams. They have a distinct black band across their eyes and a line of black wing and tail feathers. The head and back are mostly grey, and under the feathers are white. The bill is black and sharply angled, similar to a raptor. The female’s bill tends to be lighter in colour, especially the lower half during breeding season. The male vocalizes more often than the female, giving short, repeated trills. Shrikes give a harsh alarm call when they feel threatened.
There are 12 subspecies of the Loggerhead Shrike, but only two of them are found in Canada- the Prairie Loggerhead Shrike and the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike. They also tend to nest in loose colonies, so their distribution is patchy. The Loggerhead Shrike’s plumage colouration, tail length, and bill length all vary regionally.
The Loggerhead Shrike earns the nickname “butcher bird” due to its hunting method of impaling prey on thorny bushes, twigs, or barbed wire. This adaptation allows them to tear at larger prey with their beak without having strong talons like raptors. The Loggerhead Shrike is an opportunistic hunter, primarily eating large insects during breeding season. Between 30-75 % of its diet is made up of grasshoppers. They also eat small vertebrates like frogs, voles, small snakes and small birds.
Shrikes wait on lookout perches and scan the area for prey. When they spot a potential meal, they swoop down to catch it and bring it to an impaling site. The impaled prey also makes a good food cache for later, also serves to mark territory, and helps to show off to potential mates.
Biology and Behaviour:
Canadian populations arrive at their breeding grounds starting in late April and head south by September. The males arrive first to establish territory, and the female will choose a mate based on the quality of the territory. Both sexes help to build an open cup nest in the crook of a small tree or shrub (Hawthorn is preferred), using twigs, and then they will line it with fur. An average of 5-6 eggs are laid and incubated for 15-17 days. Hatchlings remain in the nest for another two to three weeks. Both parents continue to feed fledglings for about a month. Usually there is just one clutch, but if their original nest fails, they may rebuild if it is still early in the season.
Predators include magpies, crows, feral cats, foxes, raccoons, and some snakes. Risk of predation is especially high along roadways where the shrikes may be nesting within hedgerows. Single, isolated trees are preferred nesting sites, but hedgerows are being used more often, as preferred sites are hard to find.
While the Northern Shrike breeds further north, it may be seen in south and central Ontario during the winter. They look fairly similar to the Loggerhead Shrike, but they have fine barring on their sides and breast, light brown upper body, and the black mask does not extend above the eyes. The Northern Mockingbird also looks similar, but has no mask on the face, and they are slimmer overall.
Conservation and recovery strategies:
Many partners have come together to help Eastern Loggerhead Shrikes in Ontario. There has been increased monitoring and a captive breeding and release program. There has also been an effort to restore and expand suitable habitat and raise public awareness about this species and their requirements
- The Eastern Loggerhead Shrikes within Ontario are the only migrating populations. More research is being undertaken to learn about their migratory routes
- The Loggerhead Shrike Working Group is an international team of researchers created in 2013 to address the needs of shrikes across political boundaries. The group has annual meetings, and has been recognized for their collaborative approach to conservation - their effective model could be replicated for other species plans
- Loggerhead Shrike caches are called “Larders” or “Pantries”. You can report sightings of impaled animals to the Larder Locker page on iNaturalist
Bezener, A. 2000. Birds of Ontario. Lone Pine Publishing. Edmonton, AB.
COSEWIC. 2014. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Loggerhead Shrike Eastern subspecies Lanius ludovicianus ssp. and the Prairie subspecies Lanius ludovicianus excubitorides in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. xiii + 51 pp. (https://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/cosewic/sr_loggerhead_shrike_e.pdf)
Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Recovery. Loggerhead Shrike: an Ontario Landowner’s Guide.
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. 2016. Recovery Strategy for the
Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) in Ontario. Ontario Recovery Strategy Series.
Prepared by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Peterborough,
Ontario. v + 9 pp. + Appendix vii + 35 pp. Adoption of Recovery Strategy for the
Loggerhead Shrike, migrans subspecies (Lanius ludovicianus migrans), in Canada
(Environment Canada 2015).
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