Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

BLANE KLEMEK OUTDOORS: Observing a shrike is a rare and memorable experience

Spending time in nature is a wonderful way to observe all that is wild. And shrikes are some of the more fascinating birds to see. Looking at them, a songbird no less, one would never guess them to be the hunter they are.

Northern-Shrike-Pictures.jpg
Northern shrikes are larger than loggerheads and have longer and more hooked bills. The bills of these two species of shrikes are the only features resembling that of raptors, which are those birds we typically think of when birds of prey are mentioned like eagles, hawks and owls.
Contributed
We are part of The Trust Project.

The Minnesota firearms deer hunting season is here once again. Close to half a million hunters will take to the field and forest to sit vigil waiting for a deer.

While many hunters will not harvest a deer, many will. One thing is for certain, though: everyone will observe something interesting in the great outdoors — be it a spectacular sunrise or sunset, different species of wildlife, or unique deer behavior never before seen — there is always something that hunters experience that they will never forget.

One of my most memorable wildlife observations occurred while sitting in a ladder stand hunting deer with my young son in a Kittson County woodland.

At one point during an afternoon hunt, our attention was diverted to the sight of a bird chasing another bird into the forest opening we sat next to. In just seconds, the gray-black bird, about the size of a robin, only inches behind a fleeing downy woodpecker, overtook the hapless woodpecker.

I immediately recognized the predatory for what it was — a shrike! The shrike quickly overcame the less agile and slower downy, forcing its prey to the ground only a few feet from the base of our ladder stand.

ADVERTISEMENT

The downy woodpecker shrieked twice as the struggle ensued, but two precise blows behind the head of the downy with the shrike’s blunt and hooked beak spelled the end of the woodpecker’s life.

Through it all, the shrike hadn’t noticed us sitting nearby. I had thought the bird would begin feeding on its prey, but instead, it flew off after noticing us. When it left its prey, another shrike joined it as both disappeared into the woods weaving between branches as they flew while vocalizing to each other.

Minnesota is home to two species of shrikes. The bird that we observed that November afternoon was more than likely a northern shrike (Lanius excubitor). The other species of shrike, the loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus), is much rarer.

But since their ranges overlap only in the winter and our bird was observed in late fall, it’s possible I did observe a loggerhead.

Northern shrikes are larger than loggerheads and have longer and more hooked bills. The bills of these two species of shrikes are the only features resembling that of raptors, which are those birds we typically think of when birds of prey are mentioned like eagles, hawks and owls.

Shrikes are non-dimorphic, that is, both genders look alike. Furthermore, both loggerhead and northern shrikes have similar markings, too.

The adults of the two species sport raccoon-like solid black masks across their eyes that extend along the sides of the head, are grayish in overall color, have black tails and share similarly patterned dark wings with white wing patches that are visible in flight.

Shrikes prefer hunting solo. Scanning the ground for prey from tree-top vantages, shrikes will suddenly dive, flying low and just above the vegetation, as it prepares to attack. Prey is captured by dropping it on top of the quarry.

ADVERTISEMENT

Beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, wasps, crickets and other invertebrates are thought to make up about one-quarter of a shrike’s diet, while the other three-quarters of their diet, particularly in the wintertime for northern shrikes, consists of larger prey such as mice, voles, lemmings, as well as other birds, some as large as blue jays.

Since shrikes cannot securely grasp their prey to make feeding easier, the birds will commonly impale or wedge their food onto thorns of woody and herbaceous plants, on the barbs of barbwire or into cracks of branches and bark.

Their hooked bills do the rest of the work as they tear off small bits to swallow. Like owls, shrikes regurgitate tiny pellets of undigested parts such as hair, bones and exoskeletons of insects.

Spending time in nature is a wonderful way to observe all that is wild. And shrikes are some of the more fascinating birds to see. Looking at them, a songbird no less, one would never guess them to be the hunter they are.

A mid-size bird with the attitude of a raptor, observing a shrike is a rare and memorable experience as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

Blane Klemek is a Minnesota DNR wildlife manager. He can be reached at bklemek@yahoo.com.

Blane Klemek WEB.jpg

Related Topics: BLANE KLEMEKNORTHLAND OUTDOORSOUTDOORS RECREATION
What To Read Next
The bear had been denned up in a culvert that started to flow during the recent warmup and became stuck when he attempted to seek drier cover, said a DNR bear project leader.
The Hubbard County Sheriff’s Office deputies who responded located the owner/driver of the vehicle nearby and he was subsequently arrested for suspicion of DUI.
Here is a look at some upcoming events throughout February at Lake Bemidji State Park, 3401 State Park Road NE.
The camera goes live in November each year. Eagles generally lay eggs in February and the adults incubate those eggs for about 35 days.