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Know your Butcherbird- Telling our Seasonal Shrikes Apart!

As the sun starts to stay with us longer each day, and the spring weather starts to arrive, migration starts to begin to kick off another breeding season! This is an exciting time for birders, as they can spot species stopping by on their way up north and species showing up to scope out space for the breeding season. For two similar species, however, this period can bring brief range overlap that makes IDing very tricky.

The Northern Shrike (Lanius borealis) and the Loggerhead Shrike Prairie subspecies (Lanius ludovicianus excubitorides) both spend significant portions of their time in Southern Saskatchewan each year. The difference is that the Loggerhead Shrike is our summer shrike, they spend their breeding season here raising their young and their winters down in Texas and Mexico; the Northern Shrike is our winter shrike, they breed up across Northern Canada where the boreal forest meets the tundra and come spend their winter vacation down in balmy Southern Saskatchewan each year. During migration in the spring and autumn, there are a few weeks’ overlap as one species is arriving and the other is heading out. This wouldn’t be a problem, but both Shrike species look very similar and display similar behaviours (such as prey impalement!). So how do you tell who you are watching? Subtle differences help when you are playing the look-a-like game!

The Loggerhead Shrike starts arriving in April, with the males arriving first to stake out territories that will impress the gals. As the Males start to arrive you will hear more vocal territory calls and may see groups as they work out who gets what. Loggerhead Shrikes have crisp colouring; a grey back, a white belly and throat, black wings and tail with white markings, and a crisp defined black bandit mask extending right over their eyes past to their ears. Loggerhead Shrikes also have the sharp black beak that allows them to be such fierce hunters! “This species is also at-risk,” explains Emily Putz, coordinator of the Shrubs for Shrikes program, “with number declines continuing each year, they are listed as threatened, so we want as many people out there able to ID them and report sightings as possible. Every bit helps!”

Northern Shrikes, as denotes their name, have a bit frostier colouration. They share the sharp black bill and general grey/white/black colours, however their markings are less defined overall. Their mask extends through the eye instead of over it and narrows towards the bill. Above their bill, they often show a band of white extending above the eye. Their white belly can have a slight grey barring pattern that breaks up their shape. These shrikes will start arriving in September and will often be seen in the wintertime scouting out bird feeders to hunt and impale sparrows or hunt small rodents drawn by dropped seed. Both male and female Northern Shrikes are known to sing all winter long, unusual for a winter songbird, and the male sings with more frequency towards the end of winter. Though boreal species are often hard to track, numbers for Northern Shrikes appear stable.

“While having either shrike is sure to brighten your birdwatching season, if you think you have identified a Loggerhead Shrike, please let us know,” continues Emily Putz,” we would love to hear about it and discuss our Shrubs for Shrikes program. If you are unsure on your ID we can also always help you if you have a photo!” Nature Saskatchewan’s voluntary stewardship program, Shrubs for Shrikes, works directly with land stewards to conserve habitat for species-at-risk and monitor population numbers in Saskatchewan. Sightings are recorded to help determine the distribution of these species throughout the province, which can then be used towards efforts to help these species. Anyone can report their sightings of a Loggerhead Shrike, along with any other species-at-risk, as they are out this spring enjoying Saskatchewan’s natural beauty. 

If you would like to learn more about the Loggerhead Shrike, please join us this Thursday, March 21st, in Milestone SK for a free dinner and night of presentations, including one all about Shrikes! For more information about this dinner or our programs, please call Nature Saskatchewan’s toll-free line at 1-800-667-HOOT (4668), text (306) 780-9832, or email us at Private information is never shared without permission. Please also feel free to share photos, as we love to see them!


For further information, please contact Nature Saskatchewan:


Emily Putz

Habitat Stewardship Coordinator
Cell Phone: (306) 780-9832

Rebecca Magnus

Species at Risk Manager
Phone: (306) 780-9270


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