Sounds like the cry of an umpire doesn’t it? These days, there’s lots about baseball in the Sports Pages. But I am thinking of shrikes, not strikes, although, if you know much about these birds, the word “strike” appears in most descriptions of their behavior.
As my title implies, there are only two species of shrikes in North America: the Loggerhead Shrike and the Northern Shrike. An interesting aspect to their distribution is that unlike so many of our species, there are no close relatives in Central and South America. The thirty-some species of shrikes originated in Eurasia or Africa.
(This Loggerhead Shrike has "struck" a cricket. Photo by Jacson Trappett)
Here in Western Colorado, early to mid-March may be the best time to encounter both varieties. More Loggerhead Shrikes begin arriving to augment the few that stayed the winter. Meanwhile, the Northern Shrikes that wintered here haven’t left for their breeding grounds near and on the taiga in the Far North.
The best places to see shirkes seems to be in the Pinyon-Juniper and associated grasslands. Often they will perch atop a shrub or tree looking for prey to “strike.”
Superficially, with their black, gray and white plumage, they can be reminiscent of a mockingbird, but not so their feeding habits. Shrikes are carnivorous and their family name, lanidae, comes from the latin word for butcher. Indeed, one of their habits is to impale prey on thorns or barbed wire so they can eat it later. If you google “images of shrikes with impaled prey,” you’ll see a variety of bodies including birds, rodents and insects.
Local poet Frank Coons, captures their fierce lifestyle and uncommon beauty in his poem “The Shrike:”
Black masked assassin
In white satin damask
to pedestal, to wing
to wing’s advantageous pinnacle
gentility is a lie my love,
as in the cat bird song he sings,
the little thing’s a predator,
his shape is but a counterfeit
it’s the small hooked beak, the sudden swoop
that breaks their necks, the snake, the skink
and that which he doesn’t consume,
he treks back to his trophy room
where on wire strung between
barbs he displays for to see,
(Northern Shrikes are slightly larger than their relatives, have longer bills, and narrower masks in front of the eye. Photo by Jackson Trappett)
This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. [To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook!]
*The Shrike, reprinted with permission from Counting in Dog Years by Frank H. Coons, available from Lithic Press www.lithicpress.com