Loggerhead Shrike

This week for Flora and Fauna Friday we have the infamous butcher bird, the Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus).

The Loggerhead Shrike is found year-round throughout the southern United States, including all of South Carolina. Despite its broad range, it’s a scarce bird that’s often difficult to lay eyes on. Resident birds are very site specific. Migrant individuals show up suddenly in the winter months and often vanish as quickly as they appear. The loggerhead Shrike is a large songbird, about the size of a Cardinal or Mockingbird. Their body is stocky like a Cardinal but their plumage is very similar in color and pattern to that of a Northern Mockingbird, except with greater contrast and a different hue. The Loggerhead Shrike has an aluminum-blue back and cap, white belly and throat, and a black tail, wings, and mask. More distinctly, their head is unusually large for their size and their heavy bill is sharply hooked at the tip. Loggerhead Shrikes utter a myriad of strange and unique sounds but notably all are loud, harsh, and simplistic and most call are reminiscent of either Jays or Wrens. They inhabit open habitats, such as pastures, fields, golf courses, prairies, beach dunes, orchards, and savannas. They can most often be seen perch high atop a tree or shrub or along a fence or power-line.

What’s most interesting about Shrikes, to include our Loggerhead Shrike, is that they’re a carnivorous clade of songbirds. Their diets mainly consists of large insects, lizards, and frogs but also mice, small snakes, smaller songbirds, and other small vertebrates. They scan their surroundings from up high, looking for prey, before swooping in and immobilizing their quarry by severing it’s spine with their hooked bill. Even more fascinating is that Shrikes hunt constantly and store food for future use. They take their kills and impale them on branches, thorns, yucca needles, cactus spines, or barbed wire for later use. They return to eat their meals one piece at a time. This creates quite the macabre scenery, called a “larder”, and provides clear notice for any bird watchers who wander into a Loggerhead Shrike’s territory.

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