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Northern Shrike

Lanius excubitor ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: LANIIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A predatory songbird, the Northern Shrike breeds in taiga and tundra and winters in southern Canada and the northern United States. It feeds on small birds, mammals, and insects, sometimes impaling them on spines or barbed wire fences.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
9.1–9.4 in
23–24 cm
Wingspan
11.8–13.8 in
30–35 cm
Weight
2–2.8 oz
56–79 g
Other Names
  • Great Grey Shrike (British)
  • Pie-grièche grise (French)

Cool Facts

  • The Northern Shrike, like other shrikes, kills more prey, if it can, than it can immediately eat or feed to nestlings. Such behavior was characterized by early observers as "wanton killing," but the Northern Shrike stores excess prey to eat later. Storing food is an adaptation for surviving periods of food scarcity.
  • The Latin species name of the Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor, means "Butcher watchman."
  • The nest of the Northern Shrike is an open cup, but it is so deep that while incubating, the female is completely out of view except for the tip of her tail.
  • Both male and female Northern Shrikes sing throughout year. The male sings especially in late winter and early spring.

Habitat


Open Woodland

Breeds in taiga and at the border of taiga and tundra, in open country with medium or tall trees or shrubs. Winters in open country with tall perches, including shrubby fields, wetlands, and forest edges.

Food


Birds

Insects, small mammals, birds, and rarely, reptiles.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
4–9 eggs
Egg Description
Grayish or greenish white, heavily marked with brown spots and blotches.
Condition at Hatching
Helpless with little down.
Nest Description

Large, bulky cup of twigs and roots, woven through with feathers and hair. Compact inner lining made of grasses, small feathers, and hair. Placed in trees and shrubs.

Nest Placement

Tree

Behavior


Aerial Dive

Generally sits and waits on an exposed perch. Seizes prey near ground with feet or bill. Kills vertebrates by biting through neck. Removes wings, spines, and stingers from insects. Often impales prey, sometimes while prey is still alive, on thorns, spines, or barbed wire. May pull impaled prey and consume it right away, or may leave it for later consumption.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Population trends are difficult to assess because of the Northern Shrike's rarity and remoteness of its breeding habitat. Large areas of suitable breeding habitat in Alaska and northern Canada are protected.

Credits

  • Cade, T. J., and E. C. Atkinson. 2002. Northern Shrike (Lanius excubitor). In The Birds of North America, No. 671 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Range Map Help

Northern Shrike Range Map
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