Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

While birding in California’s Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge recently, we came upon this Loggerhead Shrike. This five-photo series demonstrates the shrike’s success in the span of one minute.


Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

They hunt like a raptor, even have a hooked bill for impaling prey; but are classified as songbirds. While the bill resembles a raptor’s, they do not have talons. A shrike can, however, kill and carry an animal as big as itself.


You will find them mostly in open areas. They perch from an elevated height, assess and hunt from their perch, then swoop down and attack with a jab at the neck. Sounds like a raptor, doesn’t it?


sacto_shrike_consumingIn California year-round and endemic to North America, they are about the size of an American Robin. See map below. Wikipedia info here.


Lanius ludovicianus have a large and variable diet including large insects, rodents, small birds, bats, amphibians, and reptiles. Also dubbed the “butcher bird,” they will kill bigger prey by skewering  them onto a sharp thorn or barbed wire. They use their sharp bill for severing vertebrae.



Down the hatch

Sometimes shrikes store their cache and return later (like a leopard). They are one of the few birds who can eat poisonous monarch butterflies by impaling them, and then waiting a few days for the toxins to break down.


It was raining and we were on an auto tour in a fierce winter storm.


We don’t get to see them too often, and in fact their population has been declining by 3% every year since 1966 (allaboutbirds.org).  Scientists have many speculations, including pesticides ingested by the insect diet. Whenever one does appear, we wait and watch and consider ourselves very lucky.


Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

In driving rain and temperatures in the mid-30s (2 C), how did this warrior find a preying mantis? The preying mantis was probably immobilized by the near-freezing temperature…I’m glad I wasn’t.


Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Loggerhead Shrike Range Map





67 thoughts on “Loggerhead Shrike

  1. Fantastic photos. It is rather disconcerting to have so many species (including people) being negatively impacted by the introduction of chemicals. Happy New Year!

  2. What a vicious sounding little bird! In the penultimate image it looks like it is shriking (shrieking) which it may have the inclination to do having just swallowed that mantis. Great pics 🙂

    • I like your play on words here Alastair, and I, too, found that photo of him with his mouth open sort of manic-like. If you look real closely you can see just the last bit of the mantis’s leg inside his open mouth. Thanks so much for your visit and great comment. I hope you have a wonderful weekend filled with beautiful sights and sounds.

  3. Great pictures Jet – especially in those conditions! For the past 2 or 3 years we’ve had (what we call) a red-backed shrike nesting nearby (and I mean within a few yards of the chalet). We see them perching on the top of posts or small bushes, or even on the telephone cable which runs by the chalet. They seem to enjoy it here in the mountains!
    I’m still awaiting that best-seller btw 😦 though I’m sure it won’t be long now! 🙂

    • You describe the shrike behavior well, Mike. They like their perches. I looked up the red-backed shrike in Switzerland, and here is a link (below) from Wikipedia. Your shrike winters in Africa. Re GGG. I am hearing from other readers that Amazon has not been filling paperback orders in a timely fashion, I guess authors like me who are not Stephen King do not make the priority list for shipping. You will have more immediate response by ordering direct from the publisher, I regret that it is more costly shipping to Europe than the Amazon resource; but at least they are dependable. Many thanks for stopping by today–and happy new year!
      Here’s the link for your shrike: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red-backed_shrike
      Here’s a link to order from the publisher if you want: https://store.bookbaby.com/book/Golden-Gate-Graveyard

      • Hi Jet, Jude mentioned this afternoon that the book is on its way but may not be delivered until early February! Maybe it’s walking here. 🙂 All good things are worth waiting for, so no worries!

      • Well now we know my book walks on water, that’s kinda cool. lol. Thanks for the feedback, Mike; not a lot I can do with Amazon, this behemoth is out of influential range by anyone on this planet I think. Thanks for your patience and kindness.

    • Hi SWI, Thanks so much for stopping by. It looks like you get the northern shrike on Whidbey Island, but it may not be a common bird. Keep your eyes out on fenceposts and other perches in those many outdoor adventures you have, you might come across one some day in the warmer weather. Thank you!

      • Jet: What a surprise to learn this intriguing bird occupies spots on Whidbey! I need to study up on the shrike before going on a search for it with binocs in hand. There are several areas where it might be found and the Whidbey Audubon might have seen it in the past and documented it. When I spot one, I will share with you my observation. Thank you my friend.

      • My delight to introduce the shrike to you, SWI. Though it looks like you probably have the northern shrike, not the loggerhead shrike; they are very similar. I hope you do see one some day, they’re really a treat as you can see. I would love to hear if you ever do come across one.

      • Two weeks ago I watched a bird about the size of a flicker fly low across an empty fenced farm field. It caught my eye as it flew quickly and banked from side to side; it was light gray in color. I searched the bird book unsuccessfully for its identification; now, reflecting on the sighting, it could have been a shrike. Your posting of the bird was perfect timing!

  4. Good grief it sounds like something out of a horror movie. Disguised all cutesy and before you know it the wee bird threw a goat against a barb wire fence all all the bird friends had a festival! All right a slight exaggeration but you have to admit this song bird may be tweeting out the death march! Wowza! So fascinating and seeing by the map they make it to Alberta in the summer I shall be watching over my shoulder.

    • I laughed and laughed at this. I’m still laughing in fact. When the weather warms up, Sue, you better watch out!! Until then, you can be grateful for those freezing temperatures–the shrikes are not around!

    • This makes me smile. It was in the very last draft of this post that I added “down the hatch” to that photo. I’m glad I did! Thanks Belinda — always fun to have you visit.

  5. Great post and great photos!!! I did not know monarch butterflies were poisonous, is that only for their predators? (just interested as I have a large swan plant and love to watch the monarchs and their off spring!, not interested in eating them).

    • Yes, I always find it interesting who is toxic prey, and especially the beautiful monarch. Yes, exactly right, Bertie, it’s an evolutionary tool for perpetuating the species. Yay! Long live the monarch. Fun to have an exchange with you today, my friend~~

  6. Amazing photos by Athena. I have seen a few shrike before but not with prey like this. I’ve heard that they sometimes impale prey to feed on later and to aid in dismemberment. If you Google “shrike impales prey” a whole bunch of gruesome images pop up.

    • I can imagine the gruesome images that pop up, Sherry, being a mystery author. I reserve my gruesome googles for book research. lol. I’m glad you enjoyed the shrike series, we were both excited about it. I know you know the joy of a shrike. I hope it’s not too cold in NYC this weekend to have some birdy moments.

  7. Last year I photographed the Loggerhead Shrike in the Florida west coast. It’s a medium size bird with the beak of a raptor. It has a strong body and its a great hunter. I liked it from the start. Thanks for the post Jet! 🙂

  8. It’s an avian wolf in sheep’s clothing…yikes, what a bird! Should you choose a loggerhead shrike as a killer in your next book, you’ll impale the sales of Stephen King and fly off the Amazon shelves in no time – delivery times guaranteed. Sorry, Stephen, survival of the fittest and all.
    Great post, gruesome and informative!

    • Okay I am laughing pretty hard on this one, pc. I LOVE that imagery!! The avian wolf in sheep’s clothing, impaling the sales of Stephen King — gave me a merry morning titter. Thanks so much for this laugh and your true support. Happy weekend to you, hope you and Mrs. PC are staying warm up there.

  9. I’m glad you shared this information about the Loggerhead Shrike because I had no idea a bird this size had these traits. I’m going to have a new respect for the toughness of the little birds I come across and I have so much to learn about the bird community. Wonderful photos of the shrike and the rainy conditions, especially enjoyed Down the Hatch!

    • Oh how wonderful it is to hear this, ACI — indeed, the birds are tougher than they look, and do deserve more respect. Your photos reflect a good knowledge of the birds, but as it is for all of us, there’s always more to learn. That’s one of the things I love most. Always a treat to hear from you!

  10. I had never seen or heard of this bird until sighting one this past February in Florida. What a delight to photograph him for weeks, they are really a beautiful contrasting bird. I enjoyed your action series, and learned even more about them from your facts. Thanks Jet!

    • Hi Donna, Oh so glad I am to have filled you in on the Loggerhead Shrike, and how wonderful for you to have enjoyed this wonderful bird. I hope you have a birdy new year!

    • Glad you liked the shrike series, Frank. And oh yes, all the animals, plants, and most humans are happy about the rain we’re getting this winter. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Our reptiles in northern California are only about one-fiftieth the size of the reptiles you have in Sri Lanka, Peta. lol. Always a treat to have you drop by, thank you.

  11. This is quite a special bird. I remember when you identified it to me a couple of years ago, Jet 🙂 I have since seen them several times hunting at the salt marsh. Right now our temperature is very similar to yours…perhaps the coldest day I have experienced in my six years living in FL… and all the birds are in hiding.

    • Isn’t it a thrill when we learn a new bird and then have the joy of seeing it more? Glad to get the report on the shrike. Always a treat to hear from you, Helen, and I SO enjoy getting a current update on the salt marsh. I love that marsh and I haven’t even been there!

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  13. Fantastic photography! Those small birds are often difficult to catch and Athena did a great job of it. I had to cheer on the shrike for getting that praying mantis since I heard that these bugs I always assumed were benign have been known to devour hummingbirds. I know I’m not supposed to cheer for one critter over the other, but rules don’t apply when it comes to hummers. This last week or more we had unusual cold temps and I had to replace frozen feeders with fresh juice every morning. I swear our resident little hummer (fondly named Bubba) sat and waited for me, then swooped down to enjoy his warmed up sugar water. Love your posts even when it takes me forever to check them out!

    • We, too, feed our hummers in this weather. We have one male who has stayed the winter, whereas the females and most other males take up warmer local altitudes off our mountain. The feeders are so helpful and/or crucial to their survival. So glad you enjoyed the shrike and the preying mantis battle, Gunta — and always a treat to hear from you.

    • No, that’s not quite right. The monarch is toxic, and most animals do not eat them for this reason. But the shrike is special in that they kill the monarch without ingesting, knowing of the toxins, and they let the dead monarch sit for a few days while the toxins lose their efficacy. Then they chow down. Amazing! Thanks so much for taking an interest in this very special bird.

  14. Awesome series of action photos! Did you watch the action with binoculars? Thanks for the interesting information. I didn’t know that Loggerhead Shrikes ate Monarchs – very interesting method! I’ve only seen Northern Shrikes in Calgary, and not many of them.

    • Yes, I watched the action through the binoculars. But neither of us, Athena with her long lens or I with my powerful binoculars, saw the preying mantis until she processed the photos. I’m glad you’ve seen the northern shrike! Thanks so much Myriam~~

  15. We have watched as the same shrike will carry up a small snake to the fork of a tree, sling it to wrap it like a whip, then tear it apart in seconds. Brutal. He just as quickly will turn into Mr. Songbird again. Great post, Jet!

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