Skip to main content

Shrikes

Shrikes

Shrikes are 72 species of perching birds that make up the family Laniidae, in the order Passeriformes. The diversity of shrikes is greatest in Africa , with species also occurring in Europe , Asia , and Southeast Asia as far south as New Guinea. Two species occur in North America . Shrikes occur in a wide range of habitats, including forest edges, open forest, savanna , grassland, and some types of shrubby cultivated land.

Shrikes are medium-sized birds with body lengths ranging from 6-14 in (15-36 cm). They have a relatively large head, and a stout beak, with a notch on each side and a pronounced hook at the tip of the upper mandible. The wings are pointed, the legs are strong, and the feet have sharp claws. Most species are gray or brown on the back and wings, with black markings, and whiter below. Some species, however, can have a rather colorful plumage.

Shrikes are aggressive predators. They typically hunt from a perch that gives them a wide vantage of their surroundings. When prey is detected, the shrike swoops at it, and kills it with a sharp blow with the beak. Shrikes feed on large insects , reptiles , small mammals , and small birds. Shrikes carry their prey in their beak, and many species commonly impale their food on a thorn or barbed wire. This is done either to store for later consumption, or to hold the body still while it is torn apart during eating. Shrikes are sometimes called butcher-birds, because of their habit of lardering (or storing) their meat.

Shrikes build a bulky, cup-shaped nest in a shrub or tree . They lay two to six eggs, which are incubated by the female. The male assists with the rearing of the young birds.

The northern or great grey shrike (Lanius excubitor) ranges from Canada to northern Mexico, and is also widespread in Europe, Asia, and North Africa. The loggerhead shrike (L. ludovicianus) is a smaller species with a more southern distribution, and it only breeds in North America. Populations of both of these species, but particularly those of the loggerhead shrike, appear to have declined substantially. The causes of the declines of these predatory birds are not well known, but are thought to be largely due to pesticides in their food web, and habitat changes, especially those associated with the intensification of agriculture.

See also Vireos.

KEY TERMS

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Grassland

—A type of rangeland that is usually free of shrubs and trees. Grasslands most commonly occur on flat, inland areas at lower elevations.

Savanna

—A treeless plain of high grasses found in tropical climates.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Shrikes." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Shrikes." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shrikes

"Shrikes." The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. . Retrieved October 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/shrikes

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.