Searching For The Loggerhead Shrike
Elkins, WV –
(Sound of a Loggerhead Shrike)
If you’ve heard that sound in a meadow near you, then you may have heard what’s becoming an increasingly rare sound in West Virginia, a small songbird called a Loggerhead Shrike. That’s one fact that West Virginia state ornithologist Rich Bailey says they’ve discovered while collecting data for the Breeding Bird Atlas. The Breeding Bird Atlas is a very large project conducted every 20 years in an attempt to document the locations and species of all breeding birds in the state. Bailey explains why they’re focusing on the Loggerhead Shrike, a small gray, black and white bird that resembles a mockingbird with a mask over its eyes.
“The Loggerhead Shrike is a very interesting bird both because of its behavior, but also because of its habitat needs,” says Bailey.
Bailey says 50 years ago, the bird could be found in abundance in the Greenbrier Valley, in Monroe, Greenbrier and southern Pocahontas counties. But those numbers have dramatically decreased in recent years.
“What happened is that the population of this bird has gone down and gone down to the point now where if we created a map of the state with Loggerhead Shrike, we would actually only have for the last five years six places in the entire state where these birds were found.”
Bailey says this bird looks for a very specific type of home.
“The habitat that this bird likes is farm and pastureland, but those farmlands and pasturelands have to include scattered thorny shrubs,” he says. “On top of that in amongst these scattered thorny shrubs, the area needs to be grazed, it needs to be kind of patchy looking.”
Shrubs like Hawthorn and Honey Locust are the types of shrubs the bird likes, according to Bailey. That’s because the bird will perch on those thorny shrubs, which are also critical its’ eating habits. Bailey says it’s a song bird that hunts, eating insects, lizards, and small mammals like mice and voles. Fair warning – this is a bit gruesome.
“But unlike say a hawk or a kestrel, it doesn’t have talons, it’s actually shaped like a songbird, it has songbird like feet,” he says. “So what it has to do since it can’t carry its prey with its feet, it actually carries its prey to the thorny shrub and it will impale its prey on the thorn. That’s where it will then consume its prey.”
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the bird kills by biting prey in the back of the neck, severing the spinal cord before carrying back to the shrub to consume. Bailey says a particular farming practice has contributed to the decline of the Loggerhead Shrike.
“There’s been a growth in a practice called clean farming,” he says. “What that means is that farmers with cow fields, they clean out all the brambles, all the thickets, all the shrubs that are growing in their fields to the point where there’s nothing at all to grasp in their fields. And when that happens the Loggerhead Shrike loses all of its habitat.”
Bailey says in the few spots they can still find the bird, they are trying to identify exactly what factors make that particular spot a desirable one. They’ll use that knowledge to work with farmers interested in having the bird on their farm. And he emphasizes that this is a farm-friendly species.
“It’s a farm-friendly bird in the sense that farmers can continue to farm and earn their livelihood, but at the same time create a space and a habitat for this bird,” says Bailey.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the Loggerhead Shrike or creating a habitat, you can contact Rich Bailey at his office in Elkins. You’ll find contact information for Bailey with this story at our website, alleghenymoutnainradio.org.
Richard S. Bailey (Rich) 304-637-0245; or by email Richard.S.Bailey@wv.gov