Northern Shrike

Lanius excubitor
Northern Shrike specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A medium-sized (9-10 inches) shrike, the Northern Shrike is most easily identified by its gray body, dark wings, and large hooked bill. Other field marks include a black tail with white edges, a black eye-stripe, and white “wrists” visible on the underside of the wings. Male and female Northern Shrikes are similar to one another in all seasons. The Northern Shrike inhabits a large portion of the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, this species breeds across Alaska and north-central Canada. Typically, this species winters further south along the coast of Alaska, in southern Canada, and in the northern United States. However, depending on the severity of the winter, Northern Shrikes may winter as far north as the Arctic Circle or as far south as central New Mexico and the Mid-Atlantic region. In the Old World, this species breeds widely from the arctic south to sub-Saharan Africa and India, with northern populations migratory and southern populations permanent residents. Northern Shrikes breed in open northern forests near the edge of the tundra. During the winter, this species is found in a greater variety of open habitats, including grasslands, wetlands, deserts, and agricultural fields. Northern Shrikes eat a variety of small animals, including insects, small mammals, and birds. Due to the relative inaccessibility of this species’ breeding grounds, most North American birdwatchers only observe Northern Shrikes during the winter. At this time of year, Northern Shrikes are most easily observed perching in prominent areas, such as on bare branches, while watching for prey. This species impales its prey on thorns or barbed wire, and birdwatchers who stumble across one of these “larders” would likely find a Northern Shrike nearby. This species is primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Very rare, or accidental, winter visitor, occasionally coming to this area in relatively large numbers during "flight years". Found in wood margins and hedgerows. Sexes are similar.

Specimen Information

The bird at the top likely matches this record.
Date:  1/10/1891
Collected By:  CW Richmond/WG Leizar
Locality:  Sandy Springs, MD
Sex:  Female
Catalog ID:  123012
This record likely applies to the bird at the bottom.
Date:  12/6/1892
Collected By:  Edward J Brown
Locality:  Sandy Springs, MD
Sex:  Male
Catalog ID:  221055

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species