THE LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE
The Loggerhead Shrike is a songbird the size of a robin that hunts from elevated perches like a small hawk, feeding on insects, lizards and small mammals. It can be identified by its hooked beak, grey back, black and white wings, white chest and belly, black tail and the distinctive black stripe mask across the eyes. Its large head, relative to its body, may be the source of the name “loggerhead” which means “blockhead.” There are 11 subspecies of Loggerhead Shrike, all spanning the North American continent.
The Loggerhead Shrike can typically be seen in open habitats replete with brush and thickets, perched atop utility wires and fence posts, occasionally swooping down to scout prey, and flying with fluttering wings followed by long glides. It’s a useful bird that consumes grasshoppers, field mice, meadow voles and other agricultural pests, killing vertebrate prey by breaking their necks with its hooked upper beak. To immobilize larger prey, the Loggerhead Shrike impales them on sharp objects like thorns and barbed wire before feeding. Known to carry animals as large as itself, the Loggerhead Shrike also waits to consume poisonous prey, until the toxins break down.
Northern populations of Loggerhead Shrikes typically winter in Mexico, the gulf coast states and the Central Valley of California, leaving colder climates of Canada, Washington and the prairie states from September to November and returning in March and April. They travel individually and mostly at night, moving short distances at a time and feeding en route. Loggerhead shrikes in southern regions like southern California don’t even migrate at all, and are year-round residents.
Although still numerous in the South and West, Loggerhead Shrike populations have fallen sharply over the last 50 years, particularly in Canada. The decline coincides with the increased use of chemical pesticides, although other causes of decline may include urban development, collision with vehicles and general habitat destruction. Fortunately, the high reproductive rate offers some hope that declining numbers may eventually increase again.