The voice of the Northern Shrike (Lanius borealis) is a mixture of warbles and harsh tones with a Robin-like quality, heard especially in late spring. Unusual among songbirds, shrikes prey on small birds and rodents, catching them with the bill and sometimes impaling them on thorns or barbed wire for storage.
What to look for:
- Black tail with white edges
- Faint barring on underparts and a bold black mask ending at the stout
- Hooked bill
- Pale gray above
- White below
Like other northern birds that depend on rodent populations, the Northern Shrike’s movements are cyclical, becoming more abundant in the South when northern rodent populations are low. At times these birds hunt from an open perch, where they sit motionless until prey appears; at other times they hover in the air ready to pounce on anything that moves.
Distribution & Habitat
The Northern shrike prefers open woodlands and brushy swamps in summer, open grasslands with fence posts and scattered trees in winter. Its distribution range covers Alaska and the Labrador Peninsula to Quebec, Saskatchewan and N.British Columbia. It winters south to Virginia, Texas, and N. Carolina.