Sunday, February 10, 2008

Loggerhead Shrike--Lanius ludovicianus

Loggerhead Shrike Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service. Photographer--Dave Menke. Cute and lethal.

The sharp-eyed Loggerhead Shrike is a predatory songbird. It is not just a pretty face, but a predator that eats insects, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and smaller birds. It will also eat road kills and carrion. Its hooked beak has bristles at the base like a flycatcher. It uses that strong beak to kill its prey. It is frequently referred to as an "opportunistic predator" because of the large range of possible meals on its menu. The species is widely known by the nickname "Butcher Bird" due to their habit of hanging killed prey on thorns or fences. Why the macabre behavior? Several have been suggested: marking its territory, attracting a mate, aging toxic prey to degrade the toxins, using the thorns to assist in tearing apart its prey, or storage of leftovers. All may be reasons for this behavior. Whatever the reason it has hung the prey you see, a hanging mouse or other prey can mean you have entered a Loggerhead Shrike's territory.

Loggerhead Shrike.  Photographer Karen McQuade.  Copyright

This stocky little songbird is similar in coloring to the more slender Mockingbird. Unlike the Mockingbird, Loggerhead Shrike sports a black mask over its eyes. Because it has songbird feet, not talons, it secures its the prey by thorns and forked branches.  Then the shrike uses its strong bill to tear up its prey. The Loggerhead Shrike's songs sound like moderately musical tweets, whistles, and buzzy, loud calls. It is about the size of an American Robin. It can be differentiated from the Mockingbird by its stocky build, its mask, dark, hooked bill, darker wings in flight, and dark eyes. The immature Loggerhead Shrike is duller and has very light barring across the back and the chest. The Mockingbird has yellow eyes. The Loggerhead Shrike is similar to the larger Northern Shrike which is rarely--if ever-- seen in Orange County. I have searched the Orange County Rare Bird Alert and have not found one record of a Northern Shrike in Orange County.

Loggerhead Shrike Courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service. Photographer--Gary Stoltz.

Habitat of the Loggerhead Shrike has two very important things: grasslands including pastureland, and low trees or low shrubs to perch on and watch for prey in the grasslands. Other places are fallow fields and railroad right-of-ways. Thorny bushes or trees are a plus. They often build nests in sagebrush. Their nests may not be very inviting for brown-headed cow birds which parasitize many species. A tough predator like the Loggerhead Shrike could easily take down the cowbird. Loggerhead Shrikes are not seasonally monogamous. They raise two broods or more in a season with either the same or different mates. Females are most likely to leave the male caring for their brood while she goes off and has another brood. Multiple broods are more likely in southern areas of its range such as Southern California. The lifespan of a Loggerhead Shrike is a few years with the longest being an unusual 6 years old.

Loggerhead Shrike at San Jacinto Wildlife Area.  Photographer Karen McQuade.  Copyright.

Loggerhead Shrikes nest in Canada, Washington and south to California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Maryland, and Florida. The breeding range looks spotty on the map. Loggerhead Shrikes return to breeding grounds starting in February and continue to arrive through May. By August, they are heading back to their wintering grounds. In Orange County, although we have Loggerhead Shrikes year round, they are almost rare.

Short YouTube Video of Loggerhead Shrike nestlings that have fledged, begging for food.

Populations of Loggerhead Shrikes have declined 71% in the last 40 years. Since I started birding in 1982, I have noticed the decline in Orange County. Pesticides are one factor. In addition, current farming practices clear fields of trees so large machinery can be used, and thus the Loggerhead Shrike's perching trees and shrubs in agricultural fields are disappearing. They like to catch insects flushed out by farm machinery, but Orange County farmland of any kind is disappearing fast due to its conversion to housing subdivisions. Loggerhead Shrikes need land and that is exactly what is shrinking as we all crowd in to areas that used to be farmland. Check out Riverside County near Hemet if you want to see farmland disappearing in Southern California. It is hard to find Loggerhead Shrikes in Orange County with its housing-and-mall sprawl. There was a time when on the way to work I would pass miles and miles of farmland and stop at the Irvine Ranch Market for fruits and vegetables. No more. I did see a lone Loggerhead Shrike just recently at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve though. It was great to see the gray-and-black masked song bird sitting on a post. Interestingly, he was near a dead bush that may have had thorns. I haven't see the masked bird in a long time.

Loggerhead Shrike.  Photographer Karen McQuade.  Copyright.

The best thing to do if you want to see a Loggerhead Shrike in Orange County is to look in areas where Loggerhead Shrikes have been seen and in areas that provide the low grassland habitat with a few perches that would attract them. A thorny bush or two nearby wouldn't hurt. So when you are out birding in Orange County, keep an eye out for this masked bird. The Loggerhead Shrike may be perched on a post, dead tree, or fence near you.

Loggerhead Shrike.  Photographer Karen McQuade.  Copyright.

Places you might see a Loggerhead Shrike

Orange County

Uncommon -- Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

Uncommon -- Huntington Beach

Unknown Frequency -- San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Uncommon -- Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge

Breeds --Starr Ranch Sanctuary

Uncommon--Upper Newport Bay

Other Areas

Breeding Resident -- San Diego County

unknown frequency -- Santa Barbara

unknown frequency -- San Bernardino County

unknown frequency --Riverside County

Common Spring, Summer, Fall/Uncommon in Summer--Ventura County

(Source Audubon Society 2007 Birds of Ventura County.)

OC Birder Girl Links

Birding Hot Spots in Orange County, California

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

External Links and Resources

All About Birds: Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus

Detailed article about the Loggerhead Shrike includes appearance, behaviors, range, diet, and habitat.

Animal Diversity Website: Loggerhead Shrike

Lots of details from this University of Michigan site includes appearance, diet, range, reproduction, behaviors, and lots more.

Birder's World: Identification, range, habits, and conservation of the Loggerhead Shrike

Detailed article regarding conservation of the Loggerhead Shrike and its threatened habitat.

BirdWeb: Loggerhead Shrike

Another good Seattle Audubon article. This article on the Loggerhead Shrike gives detailed information on the little predatory songbird.

Chipperwood Bird Observatory: The Loggerhead Shrike

Great article with lots on nesting habits and photos of Loggerhead Shrike nestlings.

Common Bird in Decline Loggerhead Shrike

Audubon Society page on the concerns regarding the decline of this species and what steps can be taken to reverse this trend.

Effects of Management Practices on Grassland Birds: Loggerhead Shrike

Detailed article about the Loggerhead Shrike and the effect of habitat management on the species in the United States.

Effects of Habitat Structure on Patch Use by Loggerhead Shrikes Wintering in a Natural Grassland

(Condor: Vol. 96, No. 1, January-February, 1994)

Internet Bird Collection: Lanius ludovicianus Loggerhead Shrike

Videos of the Loggerhead Shrike. Very good quality videos.

Loggerhead Shrike Fact Sheet

Great fact sheet from New York State.

Loggerhead Shrikes, Red Fire Ants and Red Herrings?

Are aggressive non-native red fire ants causing a decline in Loggerhead Shrikes.
REWEN YOSEF AND FRED E. LOHRER take a look at the relationship of the predator and the ants. (Condor: Vol. 97, No. 4, July-August, 1995)

National Park Service Channel Islands: Loggerhead Shrike

Article on the the Loggerhead Shrike in the Channel Islands just off the coast of Southern California. Short.

Nesting Habits of the Loggerhead Shrike in Sagebrush

(Condor: Vol. 98, No. 1, January-February, 1996)

San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike Captive Breeding Program

Subspecies on San Clemente Island (the most southern-lying of the Channel Islands) is in danger of extinction and an attempt at a captive breeding program is having some success. San Clemente Island is located off the coast of Southern California near San Diego.

Species Profile: Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) on Military Installations
in the Southeastern United States

Detailed report on the Loggerhead Shrike.

The Strange World of the Shrike

An article about Shrikes in general. (NATIONAL WILDLIFE MAGAZINEFeb/Mar 2000, vol. 38 no. 2)

USGS: Loggerhead shrike Lanius ludovicianus

Short, but good article.

Yikes, it's a shrike! --From Ranger Rick Magazine
From BNet a great Ranger Rick Article. Funny article filled with facts about Shrikes.

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