Birds Vol 1 #6 – The Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike for Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Loggerhead Shrike for Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

Vol 1. June, 1897 No. 6




RAMBLER in the fields and woodlands during early spring or the latter part of autumn is often surprised at finding insects, grasshoppers, dragon flies, beetles of all kinds, and even larger game, mice, and small birds, impaled on twigs and thorns. This is apparently cruel sport, he observes, if he is unacquainted with the Butcher Bird and his habits, and he at once attributes it to the wanton sport of idle children who have not been led to say,


With hearts to love, with eyes to see,
With ears to hear their minstrelsy;
Through us no harm, by deed or word,
Shall ever come to any bird.

If he will look about him, however, the real author of this mischief will soon be detected as he appears with other unfortunate little creatures, which he requires to sustain his own life and that of his nestlings. The offender he finds to be the Shrike of the northern United States, most properly named the Butcher Bird. Like all tyrants he is fierce and brave only in the presence of creatures weaker than himself, and cowers and screams with terror if he sees a falcon. And yet, despite this cruel proceeding, which is an implanted instinct like that of the dog which buries bones he never seeks again, there are few more useful birds than the Shrike. In the summer he lives on insects, ninety-eight per cent. of his food for July and August consisting of insects, mainly grasshoppers; and in winter, when insects are scarce, mice form a very large proportion of his food.

The Butcher Bird has a very agreeable song, which is soft and musical, and he often shows cleverness as a mocker of other birds. He has been taught to whistle parts of tunes, and is as readily tamed as any of our domestic songsters.

The nest is usually found on the outer limbs of trees, often from fifteen to thirty feet from the ground. It is made of long strips of the inner bark of bass-wood, strengthened on the sides with a few dry twigs, stems, and roots, and lined with fine grasses. The eggs are often six in number, of a yellowish or clayey-white, blotched and marbled with dashes of purple, light brown, and purplish gray. Pretty eggs to study.

Readers of Birds who are interested in eggs do not need to disturb the mothers on their nests in order to see and study them. In all the great museums specimens of the eggs of nearly all birds are displayed in cases, and accurately colored plates have been made and published by the Smithsonian Institution and others. The Chicago Academy of Sciences has a fine collection of eggs. Many persons imagine that these institutions engage in cruel slaughter of birds in order to collect eggs and nests. This, of course, is not true, only the fewest number being taken, and with the exclusive object of placing before the people, not for their amusement but rather for their instruction, specimens of birds and animals which shall serve for their identification in forest and field.

The Loggerhead Shrike and nest shown in this number were taken under the direction of Mr. F. M. Woodruff, at Worth, Ill., about fourteen miles from Chicago. The nest was in a corner of an old hedge of Osage Orange, and about eight feet from the ground. He says in the Osprey that it took considerable time and patience to build up a platform of fence boards and old boxes to enable the photographer to do his work. The half-eaten body of a young garter snake was found about midway between the upper surface of the nest and the limb above, where it had been hung up for future use.

Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) by Daves BirdingPix

Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) by Daves BirdingPix

Lee’s Addition:

“That path no bird of prey knows, and the falcon’s eye has not seen it. (Job 28:7 ESV)

What a surprise about a week or so ago when I looked out at my feeders/fountain area. There were 4 Loggerhead Shrikes around the fountain and chasing each other around the tree. That is the first time they have visited our yard. Saw my first Loggerhead out in Louisiana years ago. They can confuse you at first look with a Northern Mockingbird, which is what I thought I was looking at at the fountain.

Loggerhead Shrikes are in the Laniidae – Shrikes Family which at the time has 33 members. The family name, and that of the largest genus, Lanius, is derived from the Latin word for “butcher”, and some shrikes were also known as “butcher birds” because of their feeding habits. Note that the Australasian butcherbirds (Artamidae family) are not shrikes.

Most shrike species have a Eurasian and African distribution, with just two breeding in North America (the Loggerhead and Great Grey shrikes). There are no members of this family in South America or Australia, although one species reaches New Guinea. The shrikes vary in the extent of their ranges, with some species like the Great Grey Shrike ranging across the northern hemisphere to the Newton’s Fiscal which is restricted to the island of São Tomé.

They inhabit open habitats, especially steppe and savannah. A few species of shrike are forest dwellers, seldom occurring in open habitats. Some species breed in northern latitudes during the summer, then migrate to warmer climes for the winter.

The Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) is a passerine bird. It is the only member of the shrike family endemic to North America; the related Northern Shrike (L. excubitor) occurs north of its range but also in the Palearctic.

The bird has a large hooked bill; the head and back are grey and the underparts white. The wings and tail are black, with white patches on the wings and white on the outer tail feather. The black face mask extends over the bill, unlike that of the similar but slightly larger Northern Shrike.

The bird breeds in semi-open areas in southern Ontario, Quebec and the Canadian prairie provinces, south to Mexico. It nests in dense trees and shrubs. The female lays 4 to 8 eggs in a bulky cup made of twigs and grass. There is an increase in average clutch size as latitude increases.

Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) by ©Wiki

Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) by ©Wiki

The shrike is a permanent resident in the southern part of the range; northern birds migrate further south. They are considered a bird of prey even though they have weak legs and feet. The bird waits on a perch with open lines of sight and swoops down to capture prey. Its food is large insects and lizards . Known in many parts as the “Butcher Bird,” it impales its prey on thorns or barbed wire before eating it, because it does not have the talons of the larger birds of prey.

The population of this species has declined in the northeastern parts of its range, possibly due to loss of suitable habitat and pesticide use.

“Loggerhead” refers to the relatively large head as compared to the rest of the body.


Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 June, 1897 No 6 - Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 June, 1897 No 6 – Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited – Introduction

The above article is the first article in the monthly serial that was started in January 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Baltimore Oriole

Previous Article – The Ring-Billed Gull

ABC’s Of The Gospel


Loggerhead Shrike – Wikipedia

Loggerhead Shrike – All About Birds

Lanidae – Shrike Family


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