Loggerhead Shrike

Lanius ludovicianus

Terry Ross, Creative Commons BY-SA
  • LANIIDAE
  • Passeriformes
  • Alcaudón verdugo
  • Pie-grièche migratrice
Introduction

The Loggerhead Shrike is a robin-sized gray bird with black wings, white wing-patches, a black mask, and black tail, found in short grass with isolated trees or shrubs, especially pastureland in most of Mexico and the southern half of the United States. One of Audubon's Common Bird in Decline, the Loggerhead Shrike has seen its population plummet 72 percent since 1967.

 

Fun Fact

Loggerhead Shrike males may impale multiple prey items and adorn them with bird bills and feathers to attract a mate.

Bird Sounds
© Lang Elliot, Nature Sound Studio
Vocalization

Harsh "bzeek, bzeek" alarm call. Song is a very quiet combination of short trills, clear notes, and harsh notes.

Appearance Description

A robin-sized gray bird with black wings, white wing-patches, a black mask, and a black tail. A close look reveals a hooked beak.

Range Map
Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution

Found year-round in most of Mexico and the southern half of the United States. Found in breeding season only in eastern Washington and Oregon, the northern Great Plains, and the Midwest. No longer found in New England and disappearing from the Mid-Atlantic states and the northern portions of the Midwest.

Habitat

Short grass with isolated trees or shrubs, especially pastureland.

Feeding

An opportunistic forager that consumes arthropods, amphibians, small reptiles, mammals, birds, and even roadkill and carrion. Often forages in recently plowed fields. Because it lacks heavy talons with which to capture and hold larger prey, the Loggerhead Shrike swoops down from a perch, attacks from behind, and impales prey on thorns or barbed-wire fences. Hangs poisonous prey, including monarch butterflies and eastern narrow-mouthed toads, for several days to allow the poison to break down.

Reproduction

Available cover is the most important criterion for nest site selection, and trees with thorns are preferred. The nest is usually well hidden and located on top of an existing nest. Mean clutch size is 5.4 eggs, and birds located at higher latitudes and farther west tend to have bigger clutches. Chicks are born helpless and stay in the nest until they can hop out. Second or third broods are somewhat common. Birds from nearby territories will sometimes cross boundaries to help defend another pair’s young against invaders.

Migration
  • 2.9 million
  • 2.9 million
  • 10 million 40 years ago
  • 72 percent since 1967
Population Status Trends
Conservation Issues
  • Threats: The decline of Loggerhead Shrikes is similar to that of other grassland and so-called early successional species. The problem is that much of the farmland in northeastern states has been abandoned and is either reverting to forest or being converted to suburbs or other human development. In the rest of the country, farmland is being used more intensively, leaving dwindling habitat for Loggerhead Shrikes and other grass-loving birds.

  • Outlook: In the southeastern United States, the best hope for Loggerhead Shrikes is the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, which is focused on restoring brushy habitat along field edges. Similar activities should be pursued in other portions of the range of the Loggerhead Shrike. The landscape in the Northeastern United States may already be too altered to allow the shrike to return.
What You Can Do
  • Preserve Farmlands Promote strong conservation provisions in the federal farm bill, especially the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which pays farmers to keep marginal farmlands idle and supports millions of acres of good bird habitat. Contact your county’s office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or Farm Service Agency (FSA) to find out how to increase the number of acres devoted to helping birds dependent on farmlands.

  • Save Grasslands Be proactive with your local, state and national officials to increase the amount of habitat that can support breeding grassland birds, In particular support smart growth and protection of open space. Promote late mowing (preferably early August in most parts of the country) in hayfields and healthy public and private ranchlands devoted to livestock grazing. Urge parks to devote large parcels to prairie restoration. Volunteer at an Important Bird Area.

  • Maintain Ranchlands Support wildlife-friendly management of lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies in the western states, including good regulations for grazing, fire, mining, and energy development. Support research and management actions against non-native, invasive plants; these actions help ranchers and wildlife.

  • Support Sustainable Forests Push for the protection, restoration and expansion of large forest blocks to sustain the full range of forest-loving species, especially the Canadian boreal forest where logging, mining and drilling are taking their toll. Back active management (including burns) to meet specific habitat requirements on government-owned lands and incentives for active forest management on private lands. Promote deer management that allows for the maintenance of forest understory plants.

  • Stop Invasive Species Work with county agricultural officials to help fight the spread of non-native annual grasses. Support strong federal, regional, state, and local regulations and research and management to combat non-native, invasive species.
More Information
Natural History References

Kaufman, Kenn. Guía de campo a las aves de Norteamérica. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

Yosef, R. (1996). Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences and Washington, DC: The American Ornithologists’ Union. Retrieved from The Birds of North America Online database: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/BNA/account/Loggerhead_Shrike/

Conservation Status References

Kaufman, Kenn. Guía de campo a las aves de Norteamérica. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

Yosef, R. (1996). Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences and Washington, DC: The American Ornithologists’ Union. Retrieved from The Birds of North America Online database: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/BNA/account/Loggerhead_Shrike/