Northern Shrike — The Butcher Bird

“While most common songbirds migrate south for the winter, our part of the world is “south” for several birds of the far north. Snow buntings, common redpolls, and rough-legged hawks, among others, regularly move into our region in the winter months.

These northern visitors make cold-weather birding interesting, but one bird – the northern shrike – stands out because of its unusual hunting habits. The bird’s Latin name, Lanius excubitor (“watchful butcher”), gives some clue as to what comes next, but we’ll get to the gory details in a moment.

The shrike is an attractive bird, with grey on its head and back, a white chest and throat, black patches on its wings and tail, and a black mask-like band across its eyes. From a distance, you might mistake it for a blue jay.

But what makes the shrike notable is the fact that it’s a predatory songbird. Like hawks and owls, it hunts and kills for a living. But unlike most hawks and owls, the shrike is small – about the size of a robin – and unlike the raptors, it kills not with its talons, but with its sharp, notched beak….”

So writes Tom Slayton, editor emeritus of Vermont Life magazine and a Montpelier, VT freelance writer, in the online Outside Story of Northern Woodlands magazine.  (Read the whole story)

image by Firstmac
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