Not So Bad: The Butcher Bird

Loggerhead Shrike

They call Shrike the butcher bird, but that seems a bit unfair. After all, pairs are monogamous, and every spring the male sings to his female and brings her choice tidbits to eat. They search together for a perfect nesting site and work in tandem to gather twigs, rootlets, strips of bark and grasses. Females actually build the nest, lining it with soft flowers, lichen, feathers and fur. 

These robin sized birds are fascinating and fearsome because they are meat eaters. Their menu includes other birds, even those equal in size, rodents, reptiles and insects. But unlike, raptors that have fierce talons to do the dirty work, Shrikes must kill with an ancient adaptation called a tomial tooth. This is a notched space at the end of the beak that fits rather perfectly between rodent vertebrae.

Another method Shrikes employ to get a meal is to skewer their prey on a sharp thorn or even a prong of barbed wire. The food items may be eaten immediately cached for a later meal.

When I see Shrikes in the desert near my home, they are usually perched up high, and that is how they hunt, scanning the ground below with their excellent eye sight. It is said they can make out details from 70 yards. The Shrike is strong as well as fierce, and capable of carrying its own weight in flight. 

All About Birds, the Cornell Ornithology website points out another more endearing characteristic of Shrikes. Before breeding season, Shrikes have been observed gathering together for a short meeting of sorts, perhaps sorting out territories, cementing pair bonds or helping direct new arrivals to nearby available territories. 

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