Have you seen a black and white bird about the size of a robin, with a black mask and a hooked bill? If so, then you have spotted a Loggerhead Shrike (a.k.a. the Butcherbird)! They are perching on fence posts, utility wires and prominent branches in shelterbelts and shrub patches, hunting for prey to feed their newly hatched babies. Loggerhead Shrikes are migratory songbirds that return to the prairies in the spring from their wintering grounds in southern Texas and Mexico to raise a family.
In order to feed their hungry chicks, shrikes hunt for insects like grasshoppers and caterpillars as well as small rodents, such as mice and voles. Their practice of hunting prey often considered agricultural pests by landowners makes the shrike a great form of natural pest control. “The Loggerhead Shrike earned its reputation as a Butcherbird from its habit of impaling its prey on the barbs of fences and thorny shrubs, like butchers hanging a side of beef”, explains Shirley Bartz, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator for Nature Saskatchewan. “Impaling their prey compensates for the shrike’s lack of talons (claws), which would allow them to hold their prey while tearing off edible bits, as do other birds of prey, such as falcons and hawks”.
The Loggerhead Shrike is most readily recognized by its black eye “mask” and distinctive high-pitched shriek given as an alarm call. It is slightly smaller than a robin and sports a black hooked beak, gray back, white belly, and black wings. White patches on the wings and tail make the Loggerhead Shrike easy to identify when flying. Loggerhead Shrikes can be found nesting in thorny shrubs such as hawthorn or buffaloberry, shelterbelts, occupied or abandoned farmsteads, golf courses and cemeteries.
Loggerhead Shrikes are listed as “Threatened” in the federal Species At Risk Act, and are recognized as very rare in Saskatchewan. Nature Saskatchewan is asking anyone who sees a Loggerhead Shrike, or insects, rodents, frogs or snakes that are impaled on thorny shrubs or barbed wire fence, to please call our toll-free number at 1-800-667-4668. By reporting a sighting to Nature Saskatchewan’s Shrubs for Shrikes program, you are helping to monitor the shrike population, and providing valuable information for the conservation of this unique songbird. Any information provided is not shared without permission.