By Grace Huffman
Bird of the Month – Shrikes!
This month’s article is about 2 birds since I couldn’t narrow it down to just one. Shrikes are fascinating birds. Unlike other passerines (songbirds), shrikes behave more like raptors, catching and killing lizards, birds, small mammals, & insects. They’ll kill prey as large as themselves, and then impale it on a thorn or barbed wire for easier eating since they don’t have strong talons like hawks do.
Typically when you find a shrike here in Oklahoma, it’s a Loggerhead Shrike. They can be found year round all over the state on fence posts, power lines, and dead branches in open spaces. They’re small gray birds with black and white wings, a black tail, and a thick black mask. The females build a cup nest out of items such as twigs and bark, and lines it with softer materials like fur and moss. They have 1-2 broods each year, and usually lay 5-6 eggs each time.
However, this winter has me double checking every shrike I’ve come across, as we’ve had several Northern Shrikes in the state lately. Northern Shrikes are a little larger, with a longer bill, thinner mask, and fine barring on the chest that’s strongest on immature birds (and adults can have no barring at all). Northern Shrikes also have white above the mask and on the forehead, whereas a Loggerhead will be dark gray on the forehead. Northern Shrikes are also much rarer. They breed in Alaska & northern Canada, and typically winter in Canada & the northern US. This winter several have been reported here in Oklahoma. While they may sometimes perch out of sight, they do set up winter territories. I think this is why several birds have been reliably relocated more than once or even ongoing, with at least one being reported at Drummond Flats since early November.
Next time you’re out and see a shrike, take a closer look. It might be a rare one!