Wednesday November 26, 2014

Shrike’s honing their skills


The Loggerhead Shrike, a.k.a. “butcherbird” is a species of songbird that is native to the Saskatchewan prairies. Their name says it all - ‘Loggerhead’ because of their relatively large heads, ‘shrike’ because their call is more of a shriek, and ‘butcherbird’ because they impale and hang their prey on barbed wire fences, thorny shrubs, and trees. Similar to other birds of prey, shrikes have hooked bills; however, they lack the strong talons that most birds of prey possess so they must impale their prey to secure it during feeding. The males even use their impaled prey to attract mates. “What girl doesn’t love the sight of dead mice and snakes adorning the fence of their prospective home?” jokes Ashley Fortney, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator with Nature Saskatchewan’s Shrubs for Shrikes program. “It’s really a way for the males to show that they are good hunters and would provide well for a family.” The shrike’s prey items include beetles, grasshoppers, garter snakes, mice, voles, frogs, and even other smaller songbirds.  

These birds migrate to Saskatchewan in the spring and are gone back to Texas and Mexico in the fall. Loggerhead Shrike young are nearly as big as their parents now, having grown up to 15 times their size in just two weeks. Mid- to late-July is when the chicks start leaving the nest and learning to fly. “Right around now is when the chicks start learning to hunt and impale prey” says Fortney, “it is really cute to see them trying to impale prey but not quite getting it right. Although young shrikes look just like their parents you can differentiate them because their tails are shorter and they appear fluffier. Also, they tend to hang out in groups of 4 to 7 which is quite a sight to see.”

Loggerhead Shrikes are slightly smaller than the American Robin with a black mask that extends from the bill past the eyes.

They have a grey back with white underparts, black wings and a black tail with characteristic white stripes on the wings and the edges of the tail, which are easily seen when birds are in flight. Nature Saskatchewan is asking anyone who sees a Loggerhead Shrike or other Species at Risk to please report the sighting to their toll-free number 1-800-667-4668 (HOOT). By reporting Loggerhead Shrikes, you provide valuable information about population size and distribution for this threatened bird. Information will not be shared without a landowner’s permission.



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