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Loggerhead Shrike

Lanius ludovicianus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: LANIIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Loggerhead Shrike is a songbird with a raptor’s habits. A denizen of grasslands and other open habitats throughout much of North America, this masked black, white, and gray predator hunts from utility poles, fence posts and other conspicuous perches, preying on insects, birds, lizards, and small mammals. Lacking a raptor’s talons, Loggerhead Shrikes skewer their kills on thorns or barbed wire or wedge them into tight places for easy eating. Their numbers have dropped sharply in the last half-century.

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Keys to identification Help

Crows and Jays-like
Crows and Jays-like
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Loggerhead Shrikes are thick-bodied songbirds. They have large, blocky heads and a thick bill with a small hook. The tail is fairly long and rounded.

  • Color Pattern

    The Loggerhead Shrike is a gray bird with a black mask and white flashes in the black wings. The gray head contrasts with the wide, black mask, black bill, and white throat. The tail is black with white corners; the wings are black with white at the base of the primaries that form a small “handkerchief” spot when the wing is closed and larger white patches in flight. Juveniles have darker barring above and below.

  • Behavior

    Loggerhead Shrikes sit on low, exposed perches and scan for rodents, lizards, birds, and insects. They eat smaller prey (such as ground beetles) right away, but they are famous for impaling larger items on thorns or barbed wire to be eaten later. The species often hovers. When flying it uses bursts of very rapid wingbeats.

  • Habitat

    Open country with scattered shrubs and trees is the typical habitat of Loggerhead Shrike, but the species can also be found in more heavily wooded habitats with large openings and in very short habitats with few or no trees.

Range Map Help

Loggerhead Shrike Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Loggerhead Shrike

    Adult
    • Stocky, medium-sized songbird
    • Silvery gray overall with distinctive black mask
    • Stout, hooked bill
    • © Cameron Rognan, Washington, Utah, December 2010
  • Adult

    Loggerhead Shrike

    Adult
    • Stocky and large-headed
    • Distinctive in flight with contrasting black and white wings
    • Bold black mask
    • © Chris Wood, Endicott, New York, August 2010
  • Adult

    Loggerhead Shrike

    Adult
    • Often perches prominently on signs or fence-lines
    • Large-headed with stout, hooked black bill
    • Silvery-gray above, whiter below
    • Black mask
    • © Jay Paredes, Florida Atlantic University, Florida, May 2009
  • Adult

    Loggerhead Shrike

    Adult
    • Large head and stocky, powerful body
    • Contrasting black on wings, tail, and face
    • Obvious hook on thick, black bill
    • © Ken Schneider, Pembroke Pines, Florida, December 2010
  • Juvenile

    Loggerhead Shrike

    Juvenile
    • Similar to adult with shorter tail and stubbier bill
    • Faint buffy pattern on back and crown
    • © Kyle Mccreary, Katy Prairie, Houston, Texas, May 2009

Similar Species

  • First winter

    Northern Shrike

    First winter
    • Slightly larger than Loggerhead Shrike
    • Heavier bill with pale area at base of lower mandible
    • Narrower black mask does not extend across forehead
    • Faint barring on breast and flanks
    • © Christopher L. Wood, New York, January 2008
  • Adult

    Northern Mockingbird

    Adult
    • Longer tail often cocked above back
    • Pale eye with no black mask
    • Narrow, pointed bill lacks hook
    • © Rockytopk9, Tennessee, October 2011

Similar Species

The very similar Northern Shrike tends to occur farther north than Loggerhead Shrikes and is typically seen in the northern and central U.S. only in winter, when most Loggerhead Shrikes are farther south. Northern Shrikes have a narrower mask with a white upper border, and the bill often shows a pale base. Northern Mockingbirds are slimmer and browner, without a black mask and with yellow eyes and more white in the wing. Mockingbirds have dusky wings with less contrast between wing and back. Mockingbirds fly with slower wingbeats than Loggerhead Shrikes. Townsend’s Solitaires of the mountain West have a much smaller bill, small head, white eyering, and are more uniformly gray-brown, without the strong contrast of Loggerhead Shrikes.

Regional Differences

Shrikes from eastern North America have pale to medium-gray rumps. Loggerhead Shrikes from the Interior West have white rumps similar to those of Northern Shrikes. Loggerhead Shrikes breeding in southern California are slightly darker above and much darker below. An endangered subspecies of Loggerhead Shrike from San Clemente Island, in southern California, is the darkest gray of all.

Find This Bird

In the South, Loggerhead Shrikes are quite common and you can quite easily find them by scanning fence posts, power poles and lines, and other obvious perches in open country. The species has become quite rare in the Northeast and upper Midwest and finding it there is much more problematic. However, your best bets involve searching areas of rough grassland with scattered shrubs and trees for the bird or for their caches of prey. In the West, Loggerhead Shrikes can be fairly common in similar open habitats. Loggerhead Shrikes also sometimes hover while hunting, so watch for hovering birds that seem too small to be American Kestrels.

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