Butcher Birds Sighted in Swoope
This past week we saw for the first time in over a year a very rare and imperiled bird in Virginia: the Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus. The genus name is Latin for butcher and Shrike is a derivative of shriek. The bird doesn’t really have a pretty song, it shrieks. It also has a dark mask over its eyes…a shrieking butcher with a mask….very appropriate for this Robin-sized bird. Its diet consists of small birds, large insects and mice usually killing its prey by a blow to the back of the neck with its beak, stunning them. While stunned, the bird impales the prey on a thorn where it can tear its flesh with its small raptor-like beak.
This is a picture of one of the Loggerhead Shrikes in Swoope taken by Greg Moyers.
This Shrike was once abundant from Canada to Central America but has drastically disappeared from the Northeast part of the U.S. Virginia lists the bird as “Threatened” since there have been only two to ten sightings of breeding pairs in recent years.
Shrikes are in Swoope due to ideal habitat: vast acreage of grassland with scattered trees and shrubs many with thorns such as the Hawthorn. Since this is cattle country, there are also barbed wire fences which the birds also use to impale their prey.
It’s still a mystery why their population is declining because ample habitat exists; especially here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.