Back to top
The Butcher Bird: Life, Death and Fast Food on the Plains

Perched above the open prairie, the Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicanus) isn’t a typical songbird. It’s much darker than that. Loggerhead Shrikes are called “butcher birds” for a reason – they impale their prey on sharp objects for safekeeping and for ease of tearing it apart later.

Less than ten inches tall and with a foot-long wingspan, this miniature aggressor doesn’t lack in swagger. Their excellent eyesight enables them to spot meals like grasshoppers, mice, snakes, frogs, and even other birds! While Loggerhead Shrikes don’t have powerful talons like raptors, they make the most out of a small hooked beak and their feet to transport prey to a skewer of choice, like barbed wire or a small tree branch. These food caches, also called pantries or larders, might linger for days, weeks, and months, especially in winter when food sources are scarce.

Breeding season, typically April through July, intensifies this hoarding behavior since males use the predatory tactic (and convenient meal service) to show off for the opposite sex. This helps explain why our Landmark citizen science volunteers have recently found more of these prairie shish kabobs as they travel across the project area.

In June, Landmark’s camera trap project also captured video of Loggerhead Shrikes on the prowl and after a successful hunt:

Loggerhead Shrike with Meal Captured by Camera Trap

The Reserve’s 300,000-acre expanse easily hides creatures, big and small, and their unique behaviors. Thanks to the year-round Landmark volunteer program with Adventure Scientists, we now have the boots on the ground to document the intricate — and disturbingly clever — parts of life on the northern plains in all seasons. As Loggerhead Shrike populations continue to decline across North America, we’re keeping a close watch on this summer resident as well as other prairie birds that add color, sound, and cunning survival strategies to the prairie ecosystem.