Winter Of The Shrike, Part I
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Sometimes I think that my encounters with photography subjects come in waves. I’ll go for a very long time without being able to photograph a particular bird or animal. Then, all of a sudden, it seems as if that creature is everywhere and I’ll collect several nice images over a period of days or weeks.
This winter I seem to have hit the jackpot with Loggerhead Shrikes. So much so, that I facetiously refer to this winter as the Winter of the Shrike. I’ve collected a number of nice images that I want to display now and also at a date in the near future.
Loggerhead Shrikes are year round residents in southern Arizona and in much of the southern United States. They are seasonal residents in the northern plains and the Pacific Northwest. In parts of the northeastern United States they are supplanted by a very close relative, the Northern Shrike.
These birds are predators. They earn their living by capturing and killing prey, which can range from insects to small rodents and lizards to small birds. Their hunting style sort of mimics that of American Kestrels. Shrikes hunt from perches, often on isolated vegetation, fences, or even highway signs. They scan the surrounding terrain for movement. When they spot prey, these birds swoop down on it and seize it. They sometimes impale their prey on sharp objects such as the spines of thorny plants or on the tines of barbed wire fences. Look closely at this second image and you’ll see that the shrike comes equipped with some pretty potent weapons for dispatching prey. It has a hook at the tip of its beak which, presumably, is very sharp. It also has long, curved claws that resemble miniature raptor talons.
Shrikes are considerably larger than songbirds such as sparrows and warblers, but they’re not really big birds, averaging about nine inches in length. Obviously, they make up in pugnacity and aggressiveness for what they lack in size. They are birds of open country. I’ve never seen one of these in our local desert, but they abound in grasslands, such as the grasslands near Sonoita and Patagonia, or in the vast grasslands of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Preserve, on the Mexican border about 70 miles southwest of Tucson.
I find Loggerhead Shrikes to be exquisitely beautiful. They are not colorful birds, but their subtle gray and white plumage is striking. Most compelling, however, is the black stripe of feathers that surrounds their eyes and extends backwards along the sides of their heads. It gives these birds a sinister appearance that is totally consistent with their hard-boiled personalities.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting. All images shot at ISO 400, f8 @ 1/1250.