Loggerhead Shrikes are nicknamed Butcherbird (not to be confused with true butcherbirds of Australia). An apt moniker as demonstrated by the shrike and unfortunate grasshopper below.
Loggerhead Shrikes are song birds that are Raptor-mini-me’s. Skilled hunters from perches, they use their strong hooked beaks’ “tomial teeth”, pointy projections on the upper cutting edge, to dispatch prey by severing spinal cords & ‘butchering’. Prey is not limited to insects. Lizards, frogs, snakes, birds, small mammals are all fair game. They can, in fact, take down prey as large as they are.
One thing they do not share with raptors is talons to hold prey while being consumed. They make up for this by impaling their prey on sharp objects. Barbed wire being a handy favorite. Another benefit of this butchering & storing is a kind of curing. Toxic insects such as monarch butterflies & some grasshoppers and beetles are left for a few days in the ‘larder’ to detoxify.
You would think with bad-ass attitudes & savvy survivor skills, Loggerhead Shrike populations would be doing OK. That is not the case. Populations have dropped 76% since the mid-1960s. They are listed as a Common Bird in Steep Decline. There are calls for listing them as federally Endangered. In some parts of their range it’s worse. Here in Georgia they have declined 80+% and are a priority species in the State Wildlife Action Plan.
Culprits are usual cast of characters – loss of habitat, both natural grasslands as well as large pasture lands being converted to row crops, and habitat degradation from large scale, indiscriminate pesticide use. In Loggerhead Shrikes’ case, the resulting ‘insect apocalypse’ is having a profoundly damaging impact. The agricultural ‘pests’ that are being decimated at scale are the shrikes’ food sources. This is leading to fields and pastures that are little more than food deserts for the shrikes and the other grassland species. As if that’s not enough, the insects that do survive the chemical onslaught bring high doses of residual toxins to be ingested by the birds, including their young.
This should give us pause, to think about the insecticide-laced insects they ingest are consuming the toxic chemicals from plantings destined for our own ‘food web’. We might want to start thinking of Loggerhead Shrikes as ‘badass canaries’ in the food chain.