Shrikes of North America (2 Species)

Shrikes are unique in that they are predatory songbirds with a hooked bill, and cheery call. Nicknamed “Butcher Birds”, shrikes will hang their prey from thorns or barbed wire fences. There are two species of shrikes that can be reliably found in North America, and they both look similar with a few noticeable differences.

Shrikes of North America

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike
Loggerhead Shrike
Identification

The Loggerhead Shrike is a gray bird with a thick, black mask, hooked black bill, gray body, clean white stomach, black and white wings, and black tail feathers. They look similar to the Northern Shrikes, but adults will have a thicker black mask and a clean white stomach, as opposed to the barred stomach of the Northern Shrike. Loggerhead Shrikes also have a more head-heavy appearance.

Learn how to differentiate Loggerhead Shrikes from Northern Shrikes
Watch us search for and find a Loggerhead Shrike in Texas
Range

Loggerhead Shrikes can be found year round in many parts of Southern North America, and move further north in their breeding season; going as far as parts of Southern Canada. During their nonbreeding season, some individuals may expand further south into areas where they are not normally found year round.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Loggerhead Shrikes feed mostly on insects, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and birds, but they will also eat organisms that are already dead such as roadkill.

Where to Find this Bird

Look for Loggerhead Shrikes in open areas that also have isolated perching structures such as low trees, shrubs, or fences.

Listen to the Loggerhead Shrike Call – Jonathan Jongsma (CC by 3.0)
A juvenile Loggerhead Shrike (Bill Grossmeyer photo)

Northern Shrike

Northern Shrike
Northern Shrike
Identification

Northern Shrikes look similar to Loggerhead Shrikes, with a gray back, white stomach, black mask, and black and white wings and tail. However, an adult Northern Shrike will have a thinner black mask, and a barred stomach, as opposed to a clean white stomach.

Click here for more information about how to tell Northern Shrikes and Loggerhead Shrikes apart

Range

The Northern Shrike has some year-round range in Alaska, but mostly lives in Northern North America in summer and migrates down to the Northern and Central United States in winter.

Diet and Foraging Behavior

Northern Shrikes feed mostly on insects and small vertebrates, but will sometimes also eat carrion. Although they do not have talons, Shrikes will use different tactics to kill their prey, including driving it into the ground or using their hooked bill. Once dead, Shrikes will sometimes wedge the prey onto a thorn or wire.

Where to Find this Bird

Look for Northern Shrikes in boreal forest during the summer, where it opens up with tundra habitat. In winter, Northern Shrikes can be found in edge habitat with open landscape nearby, and ample perches, whether manmade or natural.

Watch us search for a Northern Shrike in winter

Which of these species have you seen? Leave a comment below and thanks for reading!

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