Monday, January 21, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish For? A Northern Shrike

A Northern Shrike showed up this afternoon. It just sat in the bird tree all by its lonesome. All other birds and squirrels had run away (no doubt screaming). Why? The shrike is a predator songbird and it eats little birds and mice and hangs their dead bodies in the trees for snack time.

I have to thank Gilliam of Blossoms and Birdsong in Ottawa for her confirmation of my identification of this bird. Her comment can be read in the comments. She has also sent me an article, "Oh, No, There's a Hawk At My Feeder", which gives valuable information on what to do if a predator stops by.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site, All About Birds, "The Latin species name of the Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor, means 'Butcher watchman.' " Very descriptive. The shrike is such a pretty bird and yet is a butcher.

I took these photos from across the living room. I was afraid to get close to the window immediately because some birds (like mourning doves and unlike chickadees) will fly away when they see you at the window. Or when the camera's green light focuses on them. I did not know how the new bird would react, so as I crept across the living room floor towards the window, I kept snapping photos. When I finally reached the window, it flew to the other side of the tree and then flew away.

The sun set soon after the shrike flew away. The only animal to return was a mouse who appeared from a tunnel in the snow to eat the seeds scattered by the morning's birds. My photos of the mouse did not come out well at all.

I am wondering if tomorrow anybody shows up. The blue jay might return, the mourning doves probably. But not the chickadees or squirrels. They know. And exactly how do they know? Can they recognize the shrike immediately? Have they had bad experiences with shrikes? I have never seen one before.

I hope my nightmare, of little dead chickadee, mice and squirrel bodies hanging from the bird tree, does not come true.

Be careful what you wish for. I had wanted new birds to show up in the bird tree because the delightful chickadees, woodpeckers, mourning doves and red squirrels were becoming boring. I didn't know that a predatory songbird would show up.

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  1. Hi Meeyauw! What fantastic photos of a Northern Shrike! This is one of my nemesis birds as I simply cannot get close enough to one to capture any detail! The black mask and hooked bill are good features to diagnose this bird. Only the Loggerhead Shrike bears a close resemblance to it, but it is a summer residents, not a winter one as the Northern Shrike is.

    The shrikes are the only songbirds-of-prey, which is why one showing up in your yard would scare the other birds away!

    More info can be found here:

  2. These are great photos. I'm excited by predatory birds too. Even if they eat the other birds. Although dead leavings in trees are a bit gruesome. At least our local hawk only leaves feathers on the ground.

  3. Yikes, blue jays are bad enough, as from what Steve told me many years ago, they are predatory when it comes to other birds' eggs. I had never heard of a shrike (maybe we don't have them in the Northwest?) -- you got great pictures of this one. I hope that your old boring but nice birds and other creatures will come back and that the shrike does not!

  4. Andree you bird photos are marvellous.

  5. Wow those are fantastic photos!
    It is really hard to get a good picture that far away and of such a new bird too.
    I have never seen a Shrike close up before and only really seen them in the birding book, what a wonderful treat.
    Though I hope he does not leave dead mice adn birds hanging in your trees either.

  6. Great bird shots! I've never heard of this bird before but I hope he stays out of Georgia!

  7. Fortunately, these birds are not here. Maybe it is because hawks are here every day. Nice photos.


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