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Hot on the Trail: Northern Shrike

Posted on November 5, 2014


Seen on Site November 2nd & 4th!

Scientific Name: Lanius excubitor


When you first see a northern shrike, you might think it is a cute, medium sized song bird. But in reality it is a fierce hunter adorning grey, black, and white plumage. It has a large bill that is hooked at the end and a narrow, black mask across its face. The female is slightly browner in colour with a less distinctive mask than the males. Northern shrikes, in comparison with loggerhead shrikes, have larger bills and narrower masks. Northern Shrikes occur in the northern Manitoba tundra and taiga, and cross through the province during the migratory season.

Food Sources

Shrikes are the only songbirds to consistently prey on vertebrate animals, which include smaller mammals and birds. Since they lack talons, they stun or kill their prey with blows from their powerful beaks. Then, if they do not eat their prey immediately, they impale it on thorns or barbed wire. This serves not only as a food cache but also marks territory and attracts mates.


The northern shrike spends its summer months in the taiga or in open country, with medium or tall trees and shrubs. During the winter months, they can be found in shrubby fields, wetlands, and along forest edges. Shrike nests can be so deep that while incubating, all that can be seen of the female is the tip of her tail.


The scientific name of the northern shrike, Lanius excubitor, translates to “butcher watchman”.
A group of shrikes are collectively known as an “abattoir” and a “watch” of shrikes.


-Ranger Rachel