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Friday, January 4, 2013

Speaking of...


Last night I talked about Hutton's Vireos and mentioned that vireos are related to shrikes.  The photo above is a Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) photographed in Bodega Bay on 4 January 2013.

Okay, okay...I confess, I'm guilty.  I'm supposed to be resting, trying to recover from a very bad cold.  This means lots of time in the house, mostly reading.  But I try to spend at least a little time outside each day.  And when I heard that a Loggerhead Shrike had been seen in Bodega Bay, I couldn't help myself!

I decided that my outside time today would be a short (very short!) walk to try to see the shrike.  They're one of my favorite groups of birds, and I haven't seen one in Bodega Bay before.  In fact, I haven't had a good view of one since moving to California in 2005.

Luckily, I spotted the bird right away.  It was foraging in the large field between the village of Salmon Creek and the entrance road to the Bodega Dunes Campground.  I didn't get great photos, but they're good enough to introduce this species. 

Shrikes are medium-sized predatory songbirds.  That's right, predatory!  They have strong, hooked bills that they use to capture arthropods (e.g., beetles, grasshoppers, and moths) and small vertebrates (amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds).  After catching an animal, shrikes are known for impaling larger prey on sharp objects, e.g., plant spines/thorns and barbed wire.

Note the striking blue-gray, black, and white plumage.  The black facial mask is distinctive.

In Loggerhead Shrikes, the underparts are pale gray, contrasting with a white throat (see below).

As mentioned, shrikes have a hooked bill.  The bill is stout and the hook is relatively small in Loggerhead Shrikes (compared to Northern Shrikes).  You can just barely see the hook in a couple of these photos (or perhaps it's just my imagination).

Sadly, Loggerhead Shrike numbers have steadily declined in Sonoma County (and elsewhere).  For example, on the Western Sonoma County Christmas Bird Count, they recorded an average of 19 birds in the 1970s, 10 birds in the 1980s, 3-4 birds in the 1990s, and only 1-2 birds in the 2000s.  (Statistics from Birds of Sonoma County California.)  Yosef (1996) suggests that possible reasons for the declines include "changes in human land-use practices, the spraying of biocides, and competition with species that are more tolerant of human-induced changes."

They prefer open habitats with short vegetation and isolated shrubs and trees for perching.  Loggerhead Shrikes are more common in southeastern Sonoma County, so seeing one in Bodega Bay is a treat!  

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