By Jim Gain
Learn 100 Common Valley Birds is a photo blog series highlighting the 100 most common Valley bird species.
Post #6 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 10/100.)
The Loggerhead Shrike is a Fairly Common Resident to California’s Central Valley and can be found in grasslands, freshwater wetlands and chaparral habitats. There are 2 species of Shrike regularly found in the US, the Loggerhead Shrike and the Northern Shrike. However, the Northern Shrike is a very rare vagrant to the Central Valley.
A Species of Special Concern (SSC) is a species, subspecies, or distinct population of an animal native to the Central Valley that currently is listed as a Federal Endangered, California Endangered or California Species of Special Concern.
Loggerhead Shrikes are currently considered a Bird Species of Special Concern (breeding), priority 2. Over their historic range, numbers are slightly declining overall with a dramatic drop in breeding populations in the southern part of the state. This species was described as common to abundant in the San Joaquin Valley in 1927 by Grinnell and Wythe, but recent Christmas Bird Count (CBC) results show an accelerated statewide decline from 1959 to 1988. (See California Bird Species of Special Concern Report)
The Loggerhead Shrike is one of two shrikes regularly found in the US, but is the most expected shrike in the Central Valley. Its close cousin, the Northern Shrike is a very rare winter visitor here with only one record in Stanislaus County. Roughly the size of a starling, this gray and white perching bird can frequently be seen along roads hanging on to a barbed-wire fence. Its large head with bold black mask distinguish the Loggerhead Shrike from the similar colored Northern Mockingbird.
When disturbed, the Loggerhead Shrike will drop down and fly low along the ground before swooping up to gain another perch on the same fence line. The Loggerhead Shrike is quite the bold predator, often taking on large prey and then impaling it on a barbed-wire or thorn. It has been given the nickname of “butcher bird” due to this curious, yet gruesome behavior.
More common in the winter than in the summer, Loggerhead Shrikes can be found in open areas such as grasslands and wetlands. They can be frequently seen along the grasslands along the eastern valley roads (Merced Falls Rd., Willms Rd., Sonora Rd.) or in the grasslands and wetlands areas (Santa Fe Grade, Sandy Mush Rd.) in Merced County. Check out the eBird Loggerhead Shrike species map.
Though very rare in the Central Valley, the Northern Shrike is very similar in appearance to the Loggerhead Shrike. Northern Shrikes are bigger than Loggerheads. Northern Shrikes have a larger, more strongly hooked bill. Other reliable marks include the Northern’s narrower black mask that usually does not continue in front of their eye (or continue above the bill), and the Northern’s more strongly barred underparts. Both these field marks can be difficult to see in the field.
Check out the comparison between the two species below.
Previous posts from the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series,