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A photo of a Northern Shrike (Lanius borealis)
Northern Shrike

Northern Shrike

Lanius borealis

The Northern Shrike, Lanius borealis, is a robust songbird of the shrike family, Laniidae, known for its predatory habits. It is native to the vast expanses of North America and the cold reaches of Siberia. This bird, once considered a subspecies of the Great Grey Shrike, was recognized as a distinct species in 2017. It is characterized by its hooked beak, reminiscent of a raptor, yet it belongs to the passerine group.

Identification Tips

To identify the Northern Shrike, look for a bird with a length of 9.1–9.4 inches (23–24 cm), a wingspan of 11.8–13.8 inches (30–35 cm), and a weight of 2.0–2.8 ounces (57–79 g). It can be distinguished from its relative, the Loggerhead Shrike, by its larger size, lighter grey plumage, and a less extensive black face mask that does not completely cover the eye. The Northern Shrike also has a longer bill with a more pronounced hook.

Habitat

The Northern Shrike is found in a variety of habitats, often favoring open areas with elevated perches from which it can survey its territory.

Distribution

This species is widely distributed across North America and into Siberia. During winter months, observations in Idaho have indicated that suitable territories are highly sought after, with new individuals quickly replacing any that perish.

Behaviour

The Northern Shrike is known for its unique hunting behavior, often perching on high vantage points to scan for prey. It is also known to impale its catch on thorns or spikes, earning it the nickname "butcherbird."

Song & Calls

The calls of the Northern Shrike are similar to those of the Loggerhead Shrike. Intriguingly, it has been observed using its calls to lure other small birds, a clever tactic for capturing prey.

Similar Species

The Loggerhead Shrike is a similar species but can be differentiated by its smaller size, darker grey plumage, larger black face mask, and shorter bill.

Diet and Feeding

The Northern Shrike preys on a variety of arthropods, including spiders and beetles, as well as small vertebrates like birds and mammals. It has been observed hunting finches and house sparrows at bird feeders, showcasing its adaptability in finding food.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List has classified the Northern Shrike as Least Concern, indicating that currently, this species does not face any significant threat of extinction.

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