The singular characteristics of this robin-sized bird include his large head and stout hooked bill fringed with light feathers. His wings are dark and edged with white as is the tail. Known as the "butcher guard", the "Northern Shrike" preys on small birds and rodents. Sometimes hunting from an open perch, the shrike sits motionless until its victim appears. The bird kills then impales it on thorns or barbed wire as larder for future meals. At other times, sighting a mouse, the shrike will hover then drop with a flutter of short wings, cocking its head and delivering a lethal chop, breaking back and neck. When really hungry, the shrike gulps down its victim, fur, bones and all.
The female "Northern Shrike" has a darker back and duller tail and underparts.
The young have barred brown breasts.
The "Northern Shrike" breeds from Alaska across northern Canada to the Labrador Peninsula.
Calls or song.
The "Northern Shrike" utters a mixture of warbles and harsh tones with a robin-like quality.
Population and distribution.
Depending upon the rodent populations, the "Northern Shrike's" movements are cyclical. When rodent populations are low in the northern regions, the shrike is more abundant here in the United States. He seeks open woodlands and brushy swamps in summer and open grasslands with fence posts and trees in winter.
"Northern Shrikes" construct a large mass of twigs, lichens, moss and feathers usually in a large conifer.