Q & A: Northern Shrike

By Bob Lefebvre

Here at the Birds Calgary blog, we receive a lot of questions from bird-friendly folks throughout the province. We are going to start sharing some of them with our readers as just another way to spread bird knowledge. 

If you have a question, email us at birdscalgary@gmail.com.  We may post your question and our answer.  We won’t print your name or email address without permission.

Q:  I was walking along the Bow south of 22x today [April 6] and saw these, which I haven’t seen before.  I couldn’t get close for a good picture but I’m hoping you can you tell me what they are.

Thanks, Jim
 
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A: These are Northern Shrikes, which are songbirds that behave like raptors.  They hunt insects, snakes, rodents, and small birds.  Shrikes are called “Butcher Birds,” and they have been known to take birds as large as Blue Jays and Mourning Doves.  They will often impale their victims on a thorn or barbed wire, which is thought to be a way of marking their territory and attracting mates, and for short-term storage of food. Shrikes are only about 10 inches long, but they have a sharp hooked beak like a falcon’s.  They sit on high perches and scan for prey, then swoop down on it.  Sometimes they hover over the ground to watch for prey.
These birds will be on migration right now (I have seen a couple in the same area in the last two weeks).  There are always a few around here in the winter, but they breed in the high arctic.  In the summer, we have the closely related Loggerhead Shrike on the prairies east of town, but it is not usually seen in the city.
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