Loggerhead Shrike (Prairie subspecies)

Nicole DollBlog, Education

Loggerhead Shrike on a barbed-wire fence
  • Scientific nameLanius ludovicianus excubitorides 
  • SARA Status: Threatened
  • COSEWIC Status: Threatened  
  • COSEWIC Range: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba 

Loggerhead shrikes aren’t your typical songbird. They are fierce predators, and since they don’t have sharp talons to hold prey, they use sharp objects instead, like the barbed wire fence pictured below.  

Photo by Scott Simmons 

Loggerhead shrikes are medium-sized songbirds that are comparable to the size of a robin. A distinguishable feature is a black mask that covers their eye, as well as their curved, raptor-like beak.  

The prairie subspecies, which we will be focusing on, is one of 11 subspecies of Loggerhead Shrike in North America. They are found in southern regions of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. They require grassland habitat, with widely spaced shrubs and low trees to nest in and perch.  

They are often seen perching on tall shrubs, telephone poles, and fence posts, where they are looking for prey. Their diet consists of insects such as grasshoppers and beetles, but they have also been observed to eat mice, other small birds, small snakes, lizards, and frogs.  

The loggerhead shrike has unique adaptations to kill and consume food. They have a hooked bill that is equipped with a cutting edge, which it often uses to bite the nape of whatever it is eating, thus paralyzing its prey. It then carries its prey, which at times can weigh the same as itself, to a sharp object such as a thorn or a barbed wire fence in order to eat it. The shrike does this because it does not have strong talons like a raptor that hold prey while it is being eaten.  

Populations of the loggerhead shrike have been declining across all three provinces, with their range shrinking southward.  Research suggests that the Loggerhead Shrike may be a suitable ‘flagship’ species, such that the protection of habitat for shrikes will thereby protect many other grassland bird species that are declining.  

Threats: Habitat loss and degradation pose as the main threats to the loggerhead shrike, due to the significant loss of natural grasslands. Pesticides are also considered to be a threat since their primary food source, grasshoppers, are targets of insecticide use.  

Since Loggerhead shrikes are known to fly low over roads to catch insects, and to perch on fences and telephone poles, road mortality is considered a significant threat to their populations. With the expansion of roadways and increased traffic, this threat is expected to increase. Predation is also considered to be a limiting factor since shrikes often nest near fragmented areas where predators like magpies, cats, and foxes are likely to see them  

What’s being done: The loggerhead shrike is protected internationally between Canada, Mexico, and the USA by the Migratory Birds Convention Act (1916).  They are listed federally as threatened under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), in which draft Recovery Strategies have been prepared. Critical habitat has also been identified in Alberta and Saskatchewan.  

Resources:  

Loggerhead Shrike 

SARA Loggerhead Shrike