Archives for 2022
- A Masked Killer- Tales of the Butcherbird!
Regina, SK – October 27, 2022 – What is that hanging on the barbed wire fence? It’s the left-overs of the ghoulish songbird, the “Butcherbird”. The shrike, also known as the “Butcherbird”, is the most macabre of the passerines. Unlike most other songbirds, the shrike is a carnivore, preying on whatever it can catch from insects and amphibians to reptiles and small mammals.
The shrike sits on a dead shrub branch covered in thorns, looking for its next meal. A garter snake slithers through the grass and the shrike swoops down, delivering a swift bite to the back of the neck with its hooked beak and severing the spinal cord. The shrike then carries the snake back to the bush and carefully impales its prey on one of the thorns, adding the garter snake to its “larder” of victims.
Despite its ghoulish nature, shrikes possess the same weak perching feet as other songbirds and cannot hold down the snake’s corpse while they rip off pieces of flesh to eat. Instead they impale their prey onto thorny shrubs or barbed wire where they can rip off bite-sized pieces or store it to be eaten later. The collection of carcasses makes up a grisly display, helping to attract a mate in the spring and serving as a readily available source of food.
As Halloween approaches you will probably not see the threatened Loggerhead Shrike, as they are a migratory songbird and are currently arriving in southern Texas and Mexico to settle in for the winter months. However, their close relative the Northern Shrike shares the same spooky habits as the Loggerhead Shrike and are found in Saskatchewan in the fall and winter months. The Northern Shrike looks very similar to the Loggerhead Shrike and the biggest difference is the time of year that you will see them. Northern Shrikes migrate south to Saskatchewan in the fall and head back north in the spring. So if you see a creepy collection of small animals impaled on the fence or shrubs keep an eye out for any Northern Shrikes in the area!
The Loggerhead Shrike has a black eye “mask” to match its black hooked beak. They are slightly smaller than a robin, with a white breast and belly, a grey back, and contrasting white markings on their black wings and tail. Loggerhead Shrikes get the second half of their name from the hair-raising high pitched shriek they give when alarmed.
Nature Saskatchewan delivers a voluntary stewardship program called Shrubs for Shrikes that works with rural landowners to conserve habitat for Loggerhead Shrikes which are a species at risk. They are asking anyone who sees a shrike, or impaled prey, to call their toll free line at 1-800-667-4668 to help them monitor the populations. Personal information is never shared without permission.
For further information, please contact Nature Saskatchewan:
Rachel Ward, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator
Rebecca Magnus, Species at Risk Manager