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In Case You Thought All Birds Were Alike...


Loggerhead Shrikes, by John James Audubon, watercolor, accession number 1863.17.107.
©Collection of The New-York Historical Society

The LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus) is a unique little bird of prey -- the only genuinely predatory songbird. These masked hunters scan the countryside from lookout perches, swooping down on grasshoppers and other large insects, snakes, rodents and even small birds.

They are slightly smaller (length 9") and darker than the Northern Shrike, with a shorter bill and smaller hook. They don't sing very well. In flight they may be taken for the Northern Mockingbird.

Lacking talons and strong feet, the small predator kills quickly with its bill and securely fixes its catch in tree forks, or more famously, impaled on thorns or barbed wire -- so, it is said, it can tear off manageable bits with its hooked bill. This colorful habit has won it the name the "butcher" bird. (It's also known as the "French Mockingbird.")

Sadly, its numbers are in decline in recent decades in many areas. They are mostly gone from the northeast because of pesticides and loss of habitat. Audubon's vine is probably hagbrier, Smilax hispida.


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