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.
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?
In 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.
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.
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