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Loggerhead Shrike

Scientific Name: Lanius ludovicianus

New York Status: Endangered
Federal Status: Not Listed

Description

loggerhead shrike on branch
Loggerhead shrike by Dave Menke, USFWS.

The loggerhead shrike is 8 to 10 inches long with a wing spread of 12.5 to 13 inches. Its coloration is similar to a mockingbird with gray above and white below. The shrike is distinguished by a characteristic black facial mask that meets over the base of the bill, a heavy hooked bill, black wings with white wing patches, and a slim black tail with white outer tail feathers. The other North American shrike species, the Northern shrike, is slightly larger, has a longer bill, and the mask does not meet over the base of the bill. When perching, the shrike holds its tail nearly horizontal, whereas most other birds hold their tails pointing downward. The loggerhead shrike perches alone, usually in tree tops or on telephone wires in open country. Its flight pattern is low and undulating with very fast wing beats.

Life History

The loggerhead shrike is known for its unique behavior of impaling its prey on thorns, barbed wire fences, and similar projections, hence its preference for nesting near areas containing such objects. Though the reason for this behavior is not totally understood, it is supposed that it serves as a means of storing food, and also to assist in tearing apart the prey since the loggerhead does not possess very strong claws. Maligned because it occasionally feeds on small birds, the shrike feeds mainly on beetles, grasshoppers, and small rodents. The loggerhead has extraordinary eyesight and can focus on a grasshopper in a field 50 to 70 yards away.

The loggerhead begins nesting in late April or early May. The well-made nest is constructed of thick twigs woven together, lined with fibers, and padded with feathers, hair, or cotton. The shrike lays four to six eggs and may raise two broods in the southern portion of its range.

map of the yearround range of the loggerhead shrike
Loggerhead shrike range map from Birds of the World,
maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Distribution and Habitat

The loggerhead shrike ranges throughout most of North America from southern Canada to southern Mexico. This species former range was from Maine through New England, south to Virginia, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. It winters from Virginia to Florida. With an uneven and local distribution, the loggerhead was never considered to be a common breeding bird in the northeast.

Historically,however, it was reported as being a fairly common breeder in western and central New York. Its breeding habitat consists of agricultural areas that contain hedgerows, hayfields, pastures and scattered trees and shrubs, especially hawthorn.

Status

Loggerhead shrike populations are extremely low, and no nests have been located in New York in recent years. The reasons for the loggerhead's steady decline are not clear at this point. One hypothesis suggests that the abandonment of many farms and orchards, overgrown from neglect, have created unfavorable nesting habitat. Roadkills and pesticide contamination may also be factors. Further research is necessary before a conclusion can be reached as to the loggerhead's plight.

Management and Research Needs

Management efforts for the loggerhead shrike in New York have included a status survey and the establishment of a system for reporting sightings of this rare species. Research on habitat requirements in New York and Virginia suggest that this shrike prefers areas with extensive, active pastureland. Continued research on productivity, habitat loss, and other aspects of the species' ecology should provide a better understanding its decline and suggest possible measures for reversing this trend.


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