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A photo of a Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)
Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

Lanius ludovicianus

The Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus, is a medium-sized passerine known for its predatory habits and distinctive appearance. It is the only member of the shrike family endemic to North America. The bird's common name, "Loggerhead," refers to its disproportionately large head compared to its body.

Identification Tips

Adult Loggerhead Shrikes are characterized by their grey upperparts and white to pale grey underparts. They have a prominent black mask that extends from the forehead, through the eyes, to the bill. Their wings are black with a white patch on the primaries, and the tail is black with white outer feathers. The beak is short, black, and hooked, with a tomial tooth for tearing prey. Juveniles display paler grey plumage with subtle vermiculation.

Habitat

Loggerhead Shrikes favor open habitats with foraging areas, elevated perches, and suitable nesting sites. They are commonly found in pastures, grasslands, and areas with scattered trees and shrubs, such as red-cedar and hawthorn, which provide protection and nesting opportunities.

Distribution

This species ranges across southern Canada, the contiguous United States, and Mexico. Populations have declined significantly since the 1960s, particularly in the Midwestern, New England, and Mid-Atlantic regions.

Behaviour

Loggerhead Shrikes are diurnal hunters, preying on insects, amphibians, lizards, small mammals, and birds. They compensate for their weak talons by impaling prey on thorns or barbed wire to consume and store. They are monogamous, with males sometimes starting a second nesting attempt with another female before the first brood has fledged.

Song & Calls

The vocal repertoire of the Loggerhead Shrike is diverse, including harsh and jarring sounds, squeaky whistles, shrill trills, and guttural warbles. Males sing trills of varying rhythm and pitch during the breeding season, and both sexes emit alarm calls when threatened.

Breeding

Loggerhead Shrikes nest in dense trees and shrubs, laying 4 to 8 eggs per clutch. Incubation lasts about 16 days, and fledging occurs around 19 days post-hatching. The young remain dependent on their parents for 3 to 4 weeks before foraging independently.

Similar Species

The Northern Shrike (L. borealis) is similar in appearance but can be distinguished by its larger size, lighter grey plumage, and smaller black face mask that does not fully cover the eye.

Diet and Feeding

Loggerhead Shrikes are sit-and-wait predators that consume a wide range of prey, from tiny insects to mice and reptiles. They often use elevated perches to scan for prey and employ their hooked beaks to kill and dismember their catch.

Conservation status

The Loggerhead Shrike is classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN, with subspecies such as the eastern loggerhead shrike (L. l. migrans) critically endangered in Canada. Conservation efforts include captive breeding and release programs to bolster wild populations.

Loggerhead Shrike Sounds

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