News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters Country birds

The northern shrike (Lanius borealis) is a predatory songbird, who perches quietly, often in the top of a tree, before swooping down after insects, mice, and small birds. It kills more than it can eat, impaling the prey on a thorn or wedging it in a forked twig.

Like other northern birds that depend on rodent populations, the northern shrike’s movements are cyclical, becoming more abundant when northern rodent populations are low.

They hunt from an open perch, where they sit motionless until prey appears; at other times, they hover in the air, ready to pounce on anything that moves.

Since they lack talons they must kill their prey with blows from their beak.

The Northern Shrike breeds in open deciduous or coniferous woodland, taiga, thickets, bogs, and scrub.

Populations are probably stable, but forest regeneration, urbanization, and intensive farming, which now dominate many landscapes once favored by shrikes, will probably cause local declines.

The shrike nest is a large mass of twigs, lichens, moss, and feathers, usually in a dense conifer. Four to nine pale gray eggs, spotted with dark gray and brown, grace the nest. Incubation time is 14-21 days, and the chicks leave the nest in 18-20 days.

An estimated 90 percent of the North American population of northern shrike breeds in the Canadian boreal forest.

Their European subspecies, Lanius excubitor, means “butcher watchman.” When gathered in groups, shrikes are referred to as an “abattoir” or a “watch” of shrikes.

For more northern shrike images, visit


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