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Northern Shrike Lanius excubitor


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Northern Shrike
credit: Artur Mikołajewski/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Laniidae, Shrikes view all from this family

Description ADULT Has pale blue-gray upperparts. Black mask extends to bill, but does not continue around forehead. Wings are mainly black, but note white patch at base of primaries (striking in flight and a bit more extensive than in Loggerhead). Tail is long and wedge-shaped, mainly black, but with white outer tips. Underparts are pale gray. JUVENILE Has gray and white elements of adult's plumage replaced by light brown or tan; underparts are scaly and mask is absent or very faint. Some birds begin to acquire adult plumage during first winter.

Dimensions Length: 9-10 1/2" (23-27 cm)

Habitat Breeds across Arctic North America, favoring tundra with scattered trees and open taiga forest; widely scattered and never numerous. Winters across central North America and then favors open country with scattered trees.

Observation Tips Obvious and easy to spot when perched in the open, but stays in cover for long periods, when it is surprisingly unobtrusive and hard to find for such a striking bird.

Range Eastern Canada, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Plains, Alaska, Great Lakes, New England, Mid-Atlantic, Western Canada, California, Texas, Northwest

Voice Song is a series of harsh phrases; calls include an insistent kree, kreeÖ.

Discussion Striking and impressive-looking predatory passerine that often perches on a dead branch or overhead wire. Similar to Loggerhead, but bulkier; subtle plumage differences also aid separation of the two species. Captures prey up to the size of small birds and mammals. Has similar habit to Loggerhead of impaling victims on thorns or barbed wire and dismembering them using its powerful, hook-tipped bill. Sexes are similar.