Loggerhead Shrike

Lanius ludovicianus
Range Map

The Loggerhead Shrike, like all shrikes world-wide, is commonly called the Butcher Bird. And like all true shrikes, this bird is a small avian predator that hunts from perches and impales its prey on sharp objects such as thorns and barbed-wire fences.

The term Loggerhead refers to the large size of the bird’s head relative to its body. Not all birds of prey kill with their feet. The powerful neck and bill of this bird give it the ability to take down prey as large as themselves, such as mice, bats and reptiles, though most of their diet consists of insects. The well-known practice of impaling their victims on spikes may merely be a method that allows them to tear off bite-sized pieces they can swallow.

Loggerhead Shrikes range over most of the USA, though their numbers are declining, especially in southern Canada and in the midwestern and eastern portions of their range in the USA. Across most of their range they remain year round, but some birds will migrate north in the summer, even into the Prairie Provinces of Canada, and some of their population will migrate slightly south to spend winters.

Science recognises eleven subspecies of Loggerhead Shrike, and they are mainly distinguished by region:

  • Eastern Group
    • L. l. migrans breeds from southeastern Manitoba east to Maritime Provinces (formerly) and south to eastern Texas, central Louisiana, and North Carolina and Virginia. They spend winters in southern half of their breeding range.
    • L. l. ludovicianus lives from southern Louisiana to North Carolina and south to central Florida.
    • L. l. miamensis lives in southern Florida.
    • L. l. excubitorides breeds from southeastern Alberta and Saskatchewan, south through the Great Plains to central Texas and west from northeastern Idaho south to southeastern California, western Texas, and northern Durango (Mexico). They spend winters in the southwestern USA north to Utah and Colorado, east to southern Louisiana, and south to Sinaloa and Veracruz, and southern Mexico.
  • Western Group
    • L. l. gambeli breeds from central Washington and Idaho south to southern California, some remaining year-round from northern-central California and south. They spend winters over much of breeding range south to southern Baja California and Michoacán (Mexico).
    • L. l. mexicanus lives in western Mexico from Nayarit and central Coahuila south to Oaxaca and the southern half of Baja California (Mexico).
    • L. l. anthonyi lives on the Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and Santa Catalina Island off the southern California coast.
    • L. l. mearnsi lives on San Clemente Island off the southern California coast.
    • L. l. grinnelli lives from San Diego, south to central Baja California (Mexico).
    • L. l. sonoriensis lives in the southwestern USA to northwestern Mexico.
    • L. l. nelsoni lives in southern Baja California (Mexico).

Loggerhead Shrikes are interesting subjects, and I’ve enjoyed meeting them often in southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Perhaps the most fun I’ve had with them was during an early morning visit to Antelope Island on the Great Salt Lake in Utah. I found them perched high on the roadside brush, and warming themselves in the early rays of sunlight. Sadly, I’ve recently learned from friends living in the area that for unknown reasons, the shrike population on Antelope Island has declined dramatically in recent years.

In the spring of 2022, I launched on an expedition that carried me up the west coast of the USA, across the northern tier states into Montana, north through Canada to the Yukon, south through the American Heartland to south Texas, before returning home to San Diego. The journey lasted approximately seven and a half months and almost 16,000 miles. During the trip, I met nesting shrikes in Saskatchewan, and later, I met visiting winter birds on South Padre Island.

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