Northern Shrike – Iowa’s Most Vicious Songbird - Iowa Wildlife Federation

Northern Shrike – Iowa’s Most Vicious Songbird

Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.

1 Butcher Bird - Matt Washburn


At first glance, the blue jay-sized northern shrike looks pretty harmless. But for resident mice, shrews, and juncos this slate colored songbird is anything but harmless.  In reality, the shrike is a complete carnivore — as brutally predacious as any raptor could hope to be.  The shrike’s list of fair game includes just about anything and everything that it can catch, kill, and drag away.  As blood thirsty as a feathered weasel, the shrike routinely takes more than it can immediately consume.  Once the little predator has eaten its fill, excess food items are air lifted to brushy cover where they are impaled for future use on thorns, twigs, and barbed wire — a habit which has earned the species its nickname of ‘Butcher Bird’.

2  shrike kill - wf mouse


Shrikes occur as uncommon winter visitors in Iowa, spending the summer nesting season in the boreal forest and subarctic regions of northern Canada. As they head back north in spring, resident populations of songbirds and small mammals will temporarily have one less threat to deal with.

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