Northern ShrikeLanius borealis
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Laniidae
The burly, bull-headed Northern Shrike is a pint-sized predator of birds, small mammals, and insects. A bold black mask and stout, hooked bill heighten the impression of danger in these fierce predators. They breed in far northern North America and come as far south as the northern U.S. for winter. They hunt in brushy, semiopen habitats, chasing after birds, creeping through dense brush to ambush prey, or pouncing on mice. They often save food for later by impaling it on thorns or barbed wire.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Northern Shrikes breed in the remote north, so it's best to look for them in winter, when they may come as far south as Utah or Pennsylvania. They occur in open but brushy habitats, and on calm, sunny days they may sit up on utility wires, bushes, and trees. They do often sit concealed from view, so you may need some patience. They hold territories during winter, so repeat sightings are likely if you can find a known winter territory through word of mouth or via eBird records.
- Alcaudón Boreal (Spanish)
- Pie-grièche boréale (French)
In winter, may show up near bird feeders to hunt the birds that visit them.
- Cool Facts
- Shrikes are rare among songbirds for their lifestyle of hunting and eating animals. they often kill more prey than they need at one time, but they don't let it go to waste. They often store food for later by impaling their prey on spines or barbed wire, earning the nickname "butcher birds."
- Shrikes have a toothlike spike on either side of the upper bill and a corresponding notch on either side of the lower mandible. Known as a "tomial tooth," this feature allows them to kill prey with a quick bite to the neck.
- Northern Shrikes are stealthy hunters. They skulk through dense brush, patiently watch mouse holes and pathways, and monitor nests of other birds carefully to determine the best time to raid them.
- 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 the year. The male sings especially in late winter and early spring. Their songs sometimes include imitations of other species.
- The oldest recorded Northern Shrike, a female, was at least 8 years, 7 months old when she was recaptured and released during banding operations in Wisconsin.