With just a quick glance at a loggerhead shrike, you might mistake it for a mockingbird, as both birds are a blend of gray, black, and white. A closer look reveals the shrike’s flesh-tearing bill (shaped like a falcon’s bill), black mask, and its overall big-headed appearance and compact shape—quite different from the lanky mockingbird. In flight, loggerhead shrikes flash white wing and tail spots. Its song is a rich, burry warble, underscoring its standing as our only truly predatory songbird.
The loggerhead shrike has a surprisingly musical voice. Short, burry whistles are interspersed with harsh, nasal notes and buzzes.
The loggerhead shrike is much more common in the southern portions of its range, where it is a year-round resident. In the Northeast, this bird has vanished as a breeder due to reforestation, competition from other birds, and the effects of pesticides. Loggerhead shrikes prefer open country, such as pastures and grasslands with short grass and scattered, thorny trees or fencerows with barbed wire. They perch—body horizontal—in the open on wires and fences.
Grasshoppers are the loggerhead’s primary prey, but small amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds are also taken. Lacking the strong talons of a hawk, the shrike carries prey items to a convenient thorny perch, where it impales its victim. This holds the food item in place, allowing the shrike to use its sharp, hooked bill to tear apart its prey —hence the common nickname “butcher-bird.” When food is abundant, the shrike will impale prey for later consumption. One such “larder” in North Carolina held 15 small snakes on a single, thorny bush.
The female shrike builds the nest in a tree or thorny shrub from materials collected by the mated pair. The cup-shaped nest is woven from bark strips, twigs, and plant stems and is lined with soft animal fur, feathers, or grass. About five eggs are laid, and the female alone handles the 16-day incubation period, though her mate brings her food. Young loggerhead shrikes remain in the nest for up to 20 days, and then remain in the nest area for about a week after fledging.
The loggerhead shrike and its relative the northern shrike have the folk name of butcher-bird for their habit of impaling prey on thorns or fence wire as a butcher hangs out slabs of meat.