Loggerhead Shrike

Photo: John Carpenter
(Enlarge image)

Scientific Name: Lanius ludovicianus

Classification: Nongame Species-State listed as Special Concern

Abundance: Varying from locally fairly common to virtual extirpation 


Species Profile (PDF)



Loggerhead Shrike (Photo by John Carpenter)

Loggerhead Shrike (Photo by Melissa McGaw/NCWRC)

Additional Information

The loggerhead shrike is gray above and white beneath. The wings and tail are black with considerable white showing when the bird is in flight. A trim black mask serves to separate the gray of the head from the white throat and underparts. Superficially, the bird resembles the familiar and more common mockingbird, and at least one popular field guide compares the two species in flight for clarification. The mockingbird has a thinner silhouette with a noticeably longer tail. The obviously larger head of the shrike is apparent, especially when the bird is observed perched.

No larger than a robin, this predatory songbird has a curious liking for food items that one usually associates with the Falconiformes, members of the hawk family. Adept at catching insects, small mammals, snakes and small birds, the loggerhead shrike is an enigma among the songbirds of the United States. Clearly a species of open, grassy space, this shrike forages from treetops and electric wires up to 35 feet high. It swoops to the ground and captures and consumes small prey on the spot. A bite at the base of the skull with its powerful, hooked beak quickly dispatches larger prey. The shrike then impales the prey on a barbed-wire fence or a convenient thorn. It tears off edible portions and swallows them whole-bone, fur, feathers etc. and later regurgitates them. Because of its small size and lack of large talons for gripping, the shrike has learned to use “tools” such as thorns or barbed wire in its environment to aid in holding and consuming these larger prey items. Shrikes will cache larger prey items in larders, a thorny shrub or stretch of barbed-wire, to store food or to impress potential mates. Shrikes are monogamous, with the pair bond stronger during the breeding season. Throughout the year, the pair usually remain physically close enough to maintain visual contact. In North Carolina, nesting activities begin in March. Two broods are the norm. The young, when hatched, are naked and helpless. For the first four to five days, they are constantly brooded by the female to aid in maintaining body temperature. The male secures all food for the entire family until the young are sufficiently feathered. Fledged young disperse with- in a few weeks after leaving the nest. Learn more by reading the Loggerhead Shrike species profile. (PDF)


The loggerhead shrike is a nongame species with no open hunting season. It is state-listed as a species of special concern. In North Carolina, a Species of Special Concern is defined as any species of wild animal native or once native to North Carolina that is determined by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to require monitoring but that may be taken under regulations adopted under the provisions of Article 25. Listed species cannot be collected or taken except under a special permit issued by the Wildlife Commission's Executive Director. 

Protected Wildlife Species of North Carolina listings (PDF)

Additionally, like other songbirds, loggerhead shrikes are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treat Act. Because they are federally protected, it is illegal to harm them, their nests or their eggs. 


There are no reported issues with this species. 

N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologists survey loggerhead shrikes, along with other songbirds, through the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), which is the largest standardized survey method for breeding birds in the world. Routes have been surveyed across the continent for decades. Each 25-mile route is surveyed at least once each breeding season. A point count (location where all birds are identified by sight or sound) is taken every 0.5 miles. Data are analyzed over the decades to help determine bird population levels and changes over time. 

The numbers of loggerhead shrikes are decreasing at an alarming rate throughout the North American breeding range. Although considerable research is being devoted to these changes, no clear-cut explanation has emerged. Highly suspect are changes in agricultural practices such as elimination of hedgerows, a decrease in acreage devoted to short-grass pasturage and the cumulative effects of longtime use of petroleum-based, fat-soluble pesticides. Recent data indicate that the long-term decrease in numbers, as high as 10 percent per year, appears to be the greatest in the mid-Atlantic states, including North Carolina. Despite declines in the Piedmont, the Coastal Plain has more recently experienced an apparent growth in breeding and overwintering shrike populations, which may be attributed to their ability to tolerate increased alterations to the natural environment by human activity.