Kindling Neighborly Connections between People and Nature.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Arctic Wild Neighbors: Northern shrike

I'm at Slaughterhouse Road in Tioga County, PA in winter.  

Northern shrike at Slaughterhouse Road near Wellsboro.
All is calm, all is bright. 

But if the juncos and white-throated sparrows foraging in the underbrush only knew the truth of who was watching, that would not be the case. A winged creature with the body of a songbird and the beak of a falcon surveys the roadside thicket from atop a tall snag. 

Same northern shrike at Slaughterhouse Road near Wellsboro.
This mockingbird look-alike is the most menacing of song birds. The stereotypical bandit wears a black mask, and so does the shrike. An arctic breeder with gray body sharply contrasted by black wings, tail, and face mask, the northern shrike's black mask is fitting for this crafty assassin. 

Northern shrike in southern New York.
In addition to superficially resembling a mockingbird, it is able to mimic the calls of some other birds. Unlike a mockingbird, the northern shrike eats other birds for dinner.  The northern shrike's diet consists of insects, birds and small mammals and it uses its sharply hooked beak to dispatch its prey.

Same northern shrike in southern New York.
If you'd like to get a look at this Arctic Wild Neighbor I'd suggest looking over thick shrubby areas like the one along the east end of Slaughterhouse Road which is about six miles to the south of Wellsboro, PA. 

I wish I could say that northern shrikes follow a pattern, returning to the same wintering spot year after year. But the truth is that you're very fortunate to find one in the eastern United States in winter. However, if you're regular about keeping an eye out for them when passing shrubby habitat, there's a good chance you'll happen upon one.

If you'd like to learn more interesting facts about the northern shrike, click this link.

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