Living Bird Magazine
Loggerhead ShrikeLanius ludovicianus
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Laniidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Alcaudón Americano (Spanish)
- Pie-grièche migratrice (French)
- Cool Facts
- A Loggerhead Shrike can kill and carry an animal as massive as itself. It transports large prey in its feet and smaller victims in its beak.
- The upper cutting edge (tomium) of the Loggerhead Shrike’s hooked bill features a pair of built-in pointy projections, aptly named “tomial teeth.” Like a falcon, the shrike tackles vertebrate prey with a precise attack to the nape, probably using these tomial “teeth” to paralyze the animal with a jab to the spinal cord.
- Loggerhead Shrikes impale noxious prey such as monarch butterflies and eastern narrow-mouthed toads—then wait for up to three days to eat them, which allows time for the poisons to break down. These shrikes also eat the heads and abdomens of toxic lubber grasshoppers, while discarding the insect’s poisonous thorax.
- Newly fledged Loggerhead Shrikes perform exaggerated, misdirected versions of adult hunting behavior. They peck at inanimate objects, fly about with leaves or sticks in their beaks, practice aerial chases without a target, or chase after their parents. They also perform rudimentary impaling gestures, grasping objects in the tip of their bill and repeatedly touching them to a branch or perch as if trying to get them to stick.
- Loggerhead Shrikes sometimes go hunting on cold mornings, when insect prey are immobilized by low temperatures.
- “Loggerhead,” a synonym for “blockhead,” refers to the unusually large size of this bird’s head in relation to its body.
- The longest-lived Loggerhead Shrike on record—a male—was at least 11 years, 9 months old when it was caught and released in 2010 by researchers in California.