Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sign of the 'butcherbird'

You'll know it when you see it.

And once you have seen it, you can spot it a mile away.

Well, maybe not a *mile* away, but it tends to stand out.

...blatantly obvious, right? Especially at 25 mph on a gravel road?

What could be more apparent than a grasshopper impaled on a yucca blade?

This particular grasshopper was a few miles south of Alpine, a few feet off the ground.

Loggerhead Shrikes are famous for impaling small creatures, generally on thorns and spines and fence barbs and anywhere they can cache a dead vertebrate, invertebrate or competitor* (not sure if it was perceived as competition or prey, but a shrike can kill a mockingbird and they're roughly the same size).

From the link above, here's their biggest, meanest, most vicious evolutionary adaptation:

That, my friends, is the beak of a beast. All the better to sever your spine.

If you're a small rodent.

Shrikes are actually songbirds, their feet are not capable of the same death-grip that hawks, owls and eagles can inflict. Songbirds they may be, but their dinner comes at the expense of anything that is smaller than it is. Thankfully they're rather petite as far as predators go, so neither pets (hawks, owls and eagles have been known to take cats and dogs), nor people are at risk from this delightful bird of the open grasslands.

See? No death grip here.

* photos of the Loggerhead Shrike are from our other blog, See Trail, where it is documented for curiosity's sake, and includes this disclaimer:
Note: state and/or federal permits are required to pick up birds.
Our permits are through Texas A&M; this shrike was collected with their permit ~20 miles north of Study Butte, Texas on 23 March, 2011.

* from Matt * For more shrike cache goodness:

This from a cache belonging to a "San Clemente Island" Loggerhead Shrike (L. l. mearnsi).


  1. Nice close-ups! I guess the grasshopper won't appreciate the sentiment, but that's cool!

    My one time being nice and close to a Shrike, I was hoping for some brutal behavior and...its started eating mesquite leaves. I guess it was a vegetarian.

    Great information. I'm looking forward to following your blog.

  2. Hello, Laurence, and welcome aboard! For what it's worth, the most brutal behaviors I've heard have been anecdotal (though the decapitated mockingbird incident was witnessed by my horrified mother and I was left to bury the body!) but all the more reason to keep a close eye on them - you never know what you'll see!