Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Fascination With The Loggerhead Shrike

We are skipping ahead in time for a moment here because this is just too cool to hold off on any longer. 

Disclaimer:  Before we get to the details of this post we want to be clear that in this post you will see what some consider to be gross, disgusting, gruesome and down right nasty photos of dead things.  We are NOT joking.  If you do not wish to see these things that are a part of the nature of this area then please do not continue reading this post.  Please do however return for our next one at which point we will resume exploring flowers and pretty scenery.

Now, on to it!

The Loggerhead Shrike:  We first met this bird in Montana at the Big Horn Canyon National Recreation area.  There it was just sitting on a wire.

At that point, although we investigated the name of this pretty little songbird we learned no more.  Little did we know that at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge we would not only be reintroduced to this sweet little peeper but also learn first hand why its nickname is not so sweet.  The Loggerhead Shrike is also known as the “Butcher Bird”!

And this is how it happened...

We had been out for the day with a longtime volunteer who was touring us around parts of the refuge (you’ll see those photos another time).  For the most part we were done with the tour and cruising along the barbed wire fence that lines the refuge property on the way to the gate we would exit.  That’s when someone in the vehicle exclaimed, “Hey!  There’s something hanging on the fence!”

As it turns out...

this sweet little face is that of a bird of prey which eats similar foods to a hawk or falcon. This is quite impressive considering its diminutive size.  How does it compensate?

Since it cannot kill prey with talons it manipulates its very sharp and hooked bill to stun or even paralyze its prey and then impales somewhere.

Yes.  You read right.  It impales it.  Barbed wire fencing makes a great place to impale something now doesn’t it?!


We’ll start you out with this photo and distract you with the fact that you are looking at the Great Crested Grasshopper.  A super cool find even if it wasn’t given much of a choice in the matter.

Next we saw...

                                    a very unfortunate lizard.

And then there was this... (remember: we did warn you)


Yes, believe it or not, the Loggerhead Shrike catches prey as
big as itself and transports it by carrying it in its feet as
other birds of prey do.

This was the extent of our reintroduction to the Loggerhead Shrike at Sevilleta NWR on this day.  Needless to say, it left Nicole with quite a bit of intrigue.

In reading more she learned that the Shrike likes to use thorns and cactus spines too.  We’ve seen a lot of those on our desert walks over the last three years but never have we seen anything impaled on them. 

Were we just not looking close enough?

We thought we were pretty observant of the smallest of details.  So, Nicole set out on a quest.  Three weeks went by and nothing.  She had all but given up and was simply walking in the wash one day talking with Darlene when...

                                                 the proverbial ‘Haystack’

                                  finally revealed its ‘Needle’!

                          There was something poetic about it.

There is also something quite ingenious.  When it comes to certain grasshoppers, monarch butterflies, toads and other noxious or not so tasty specimens, the Shrike hangs them out to dry like this for several days until the toxicity is reduced.  The Shrike is also the only bird we’ve found that impales its prey in this manner.

After achieving success with her search in the wild, Nicole was anxious to get back to the fence line and explore the ‘variety’.  Here’s is what we found.



                            beetles (of the mostly darkling variety)


                                                robber flies



            and what is left of a kangaroo rat (or perhaps a field mouse)


So, that is our afternoon study of the Loggerhead Shrike at Sevilleta NWR.  Although it could be considered a gruesome day out on the refuge, it is nature doing what nature does.  It is a wee little vicious predator compensating for its diminutive size and strength with intelligence.  And that... is just plain fascinating.

     For those of you who stayed with us through the whole post, we’ll leave you with a scene
        of pretty mountains, fields and Sandhill Cranes.  More stuff like this coming soon.

                        “If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes.” 
                                                    - Charles Lindbergh