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The Butcher Bird

1-3-14 impaled mouse & MS shrike by Bridie McGreavy DSC_0146The Northern Shrike (Lanius excubitor) is highly unusual in that it is a predatory songbird. Birds, mammals and insects are preferred over nectar, nuts and seeds. This tundra-nesting bird comes as far south as New England to overwinter, where it preys mainly on mice, voles and small birds. The Northern Shrike often kills more prey than it can immediately eat or feed its young, storing the excess food to eat later, when available living prey may be scarce. The manner in which it stores this extra food is what gave it the name “butcher bird;” it often impales prey on a thorn, broken branch (as in photograph) or even barbed wire, or it wedges prey into narrow V-shaped forks of branches, where they hang until reclaimed by the shrike. (Impaled mouse photo by Bridie McGreavy; northern shrike photo by MS Henszey)

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7 responses

  1. One appeared at the top of a short tree in our yard in late December. A treat for us, but not for the birds!

    January 6, 2014 at 1:08 pm

  2. william

    Great post, it has a kestrel look to it judging by the beak. It’s actual size is much larger than the photo is showing according to my Complete Birds of N. A. Apparently they reach 10 inches in length.

    January 6, 2014 at 2:46 pm

  3. Lord vole-de-mort.

    January 6, 2014 at 3:07 pm

  4. A friend just recently posted your blog on her Facebook page. I’ve heard of your book, and I’ve really been enjoying receiving your posts! I love the fact that they’re frequent, as well as fascinating!

    If you’re interested, I have a blog that I’ve been doing since June 2013: . Hope you like it!

    January 6, 2014 at 10:37 pm



    Thanks, Judi

    January 7, 2014 at 11:57 am

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