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Loggerhead Shrike 

(Lanius ludovicianus) 
Banded 27 April 2000 - Montgomery, Indiana

General Information

The Loggerhead Shrike is one of 38 species of shrikes that occur worldwide. Only the Loggerhead and the Northern Shrike occur in North America. Shrikes, predatory songbirds, are commonly known as Butcher Birds for their habit of impaling their prey of small insects, small birds, lizards and small mammals upon thorns. 

The habit of impaling prey seems to be a method of anchoring the food so that small pieces can be torn off to eat. Food not eaten right away will be visited later, sometimes up to 8 months after capture. 


The adult Loggerhead Shrike is an attractively patterned blend of black, gray and white. A distinctive white wing patch is visible when it flies. It is somewhat similar in color pattern to the mockingbird with which is often confused. Males and females are similar in appearance. Shrikes are about 9 inches long with a wing span of 12.5 to 13 inches. Weights range from 1.75 oz.

Adult Loggerhead Shrike
Figure 1- Adult Loggerhead Shrike


Loggerhead Shrike Habitat
Figure 2 - Loggerhead Shrike Habitat


Here, John Castrale, John Maxwell (photographer) and Amy of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources document the nest site of a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes in the farmlands of south central Indiana. This open country with scattered trees is typical breeding habitat for Loggerhead Shrikes.

The Loggerhead Shrike prefers to build its nest in a cedar, spruce, multiflora rose or similar dense shrub from 3 to 10 feet above ground. Shrikes have fantastic eyesight. They can see and attack a bumblebee up to 300 feet away, a mouse 600 feet away and have been known to attack a potential competitor up to 3,000 feet away (Terres 1995).


Nest of Loggerhead Shrike
Figure 3 - Nest of Loggerhead Shrike


Loggerhead Shrike Nestlings
Figure 4 - Loggerhead Shrike Nestlings 


These young shrikes are about 10 days old. Young shrikes will fledge in about 20 days. Until then, both parents care for the young.

The patterns of the adult shrike are evident in the young nestlings. The black face patch, black wing pattern, short tail and a heavy bill specialized for its predatory lifestyle are easily seen. The short tail is cocked up like a wren's!


Loggerhead Shrike Nestling
Figure 5 - Loggerhead Shrike Nestling


 A cute family almost ready for the world
Figure 6 - A cute family almost ready for the world


These young shrikes are banded, measured, weighed and ready to go back to their nest. Contrary to popular belief, most bird species have a poor sense of smell and will not abandon their nest or young when handled. The danger to nesting birds is that activity around the nest may cause predators to be attracted to the nest, so careful precautions are taken to minimize this danger. 

To avoid disturbance to a nest, and to gain access to difficult nests, John Castrale uses a mirror on a long telescoping pole to peer into the nest to check for eggs and nestlings.


Checking A Nest
Figure 7 - Checking A Nest


Nesting Behavior

Loggerhead Shrikes build a bulky cup nest of twigs lined with grasses, feathers and animal hair in a bush or tree from 8 to 153 feet above the ground. From 4 to 7 eggs incubated by both sexes hatch in 10 to 12 days. Young, cared for by both parents, fledge in about 20 days. The instinct of impaling food on thorns appears when 30 to 40 days old. 

Banding and Recoveries

According to the Bird Banding Lab web site, a total of 21,653 Loggerhead Shrikes were banded nationwide from 1914 to 1998. Of these, 194 have been recovered. Banding studies show that Loggerhead Shrikes are migratory and can live more than 6 years in the wild. Loggerhead Shrikes winter in the southern half of the US and into Mexico. 

Economic Benefit and Conservation

Loggerhead Shrikes perform a valuable service to mankind by consuming a large number of insects and mammal pests such as grasshoppers, locusts, crickets beetles, ants, wasps, small reptiles and rodents. Unfortunately, populations of Loggerhead Shrikes have drastically declined. Habitat loss, including loss of wintering habitat due to land development in coastal regions, is a factor, but more studies are needed if we are to understand this bird and reverse the population declines. 

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources Non-game Program is currently studying these birds to determine their breeding status, population trends and relevant environmental factors.

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