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Vinson Tan



Last Christmas, I received a hilarious gift: the “Dumb Birds of North America 2021 Daily Calendar.” It features silly and often profane bird facts for every day, usually with an insulting aside about the bird in question. As I write this, today’s Fun Fact! entry reads “A shrike can kill and carry an animal as big as itself. It carries its larger victims in its feet and littler victims in its hooked beak. It also has no soul.” While I can’t speak to the theological question of whether shrikes or any birds have a soul, it’s a great time of year to consider today’s featured bird. Here in northern Wisconsin the northern shrike is a wintertime resident and these days they’re starting to settle in for the season.

Northern shrikes, along with their cousins the loggerhead shrikes (readers downstate may be lucky enough to see those in the summertime) are technically songbirds, but their behavior is reminiscent of raptors like hawks or falcons. They even look like predators with their little black bandit mask plumage and hooked beaks. These tiny terrors are smaller than blue jays and could be mistaken in winter for a Canada jay (quick ID tips: Canada jays may come to your feeders for the seeds; northern shrikes may come to your feeders for the birds. They both cache their food, but the jays put nuts and fruits into small cavities and shrikes impale small birds and animals they can’t eat right away on thorns or barbed wire.) They don’t have talons like raptors, but they don’t need them. Shrikes can still catch and grip their prey — particularly other birds — with their feet, and then kill it with their sharp, hooked, notched beaks.

(Copyright © 2021 APG Media)

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