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Loggerhead Shrike

Fact File

Scientific Name: Lanius ludovicianus

Classification: Bird, Order Passeriformes, Family Laniidae

Relatives: Shrikes

Conservation Status:

  • State Threatened in Virginia
  • Species of Greatest Conservation Need-Tier 1a on the Virginia Wildlife Action Plan
  • Listed on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List
  • Listed as Endangered in eastern Canada and Threatened in western Canada under the Federal Species at Risk Act
  • The San Clemente subspecies is listed as Federally Endangered in the US

Size: 7.9-9.1 inches long

Life Span: Up to 13 years in the wild

Identifying Characteristics

An image of a loggerhead shrike, a small grey bird with black wings and a black band along it's eye

Loggerhead Shrike. Photo by Aaron Maizlish

Aptly named, Loggerhead Shrikes have a large blocky head relative to their body. The Shrike’s upperparts are a clean gray while its entire underside is white. They have a distinctive broad black stripe across the eyes that wraps around the front of their bill like a mask. Their wings and tails are black, with a patch of white on the outer wing feathers (primaries), as well as white outer tail feathers, which stand out when in flight. Their chunky bill is black and sharply hooked like a raptor’s.

Males and females look the same. Juveniles look similar to adults, but may have light barring on the breast and belly.



An image of a northern mockingbird; a grey bird with darker wings and a lighter belly

Northern Mockingbird. Photo by Doug Greenberg.

Similar-looking species:

In Virginia, the bird bearing the closest resemblance to the Loggerhead Shrike is the Northern Mockingbird, which also flashes white in the wings and tail when it is flying. Mockingbirds have smaller heads and a thinner, unhooked bill. They also are more of a drab, brownish-grey in overall color, whereas the grey of the shrike is a cleaner and sharper. The easiest way to distinguish the two species is by looking for the shrike’s thick, black mask that extends well behind the eyes. Mockingbirds have a very thin black eyeline between the bill and eye.



Shrikes are found in a variety of open habitats across their North American range. In Virginia they are primarily found in grazed pastures, and are therefore very much tied to working farms. These pastures range from ‘rough’ pastures with scattered shrubs west of the Blue Ridge, to much ‘cleaner’ pastures with vegetated fencerows elsewhere in the state. All shrike habitats share the following characteristics: short to medium grass with areas of bare ground to facilitate hunting; hunting perches such as shrubs, mature trees, power lines, fences, hay bales, and other natural and artificial structures; and, for breeding, shrubs such as Eastern red cedar and hawthorn. Osage orange and multiflora rose are also occasionally used, and shrikes will sometimes nest high up in mature trees.  



Insects make up 68% of their diet mostly including grasshoppers and beetles. They are predatory songbirds, also eating small vertebrates, including amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds. Insect prey is more commonly eaten during the breeding season while vertebrate prey is more common in the winter season. 


Loggerhead Shrike is the only shrike species found only in North America, where it is most abundant in western and southeastern United States and Mexico. Some populations of shrikes are migratory, breeding in the northern U.S. or southern Canada, and wintering in the southern U.S. and Mexico. There are also non-migratory shrikes that live in the southern United States and Mexico year-round. In Virginia, most of the known population is located west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are also small, scattered groupings of shrikes within the Piedmont. In Virginia, shrikes are found year-round, and include both resident and migrant individuals. 

The "Butcher-Bird"

An image of a grasshopper impaled on barbed wire; a common Loggerhead shrike prey

Loggerhead Shrike prey. Photo by Hunter Desportes.

An image of a loggerhead shrike and it's newly barbed wire impaled moth

Loggerhead Shrike with impaled prey. Photo by Billtacular, Flickr Creative Commons.

Affectionately known as the “Butcher Bird,” the Loggerhead Shrike acts more like a bird of prey than a songbird, taking small vertebrate prey in addition to insects. Like some raptors, it drops down on and kills its prey from a perch. However, the shrike lacks the sharp talons that allow a raptor to hold its prey as it consumes it. Instead, it has developed a unique behavior in order to get around this shortcoming – it impales its dead prey on a sharp stick, thorn or barbed wire. Impalement also allows shrikes to consume prey from their ‘larder’ long after they are caught, including noxious prey like monarch butterflies or narrow mouthed toads, which they will wait up to 3 days to eat in order to allow the poisons in the organism to break down.

All About that Perch

An image of a loggerhead shrike perched upon a tree

Loggerhead Shrike perched. Photo by Rick Cameron.

The Loggerhead Shrike hunts almost exclusively from perches, dropping down on its prey from above. Such perches may include utility wires, fence posts, barbed wire, trees and shrubs, stumps, brush piles, and even rocks. Because the shrike can take prey within a limited radius around its perch, its access to hunting areas can be limited by the height, distribution and number of perches. Perches are also used to watch for predators, and for territory defense and mate attraction.

Role in the Web of Life

A picture of a loggerhead shrike holding a small lizard in its beak

Loggerhead Shrike with prey. Photo by cuatrok77, Flickr Creative Commons.

This bird eats a wide range of prey as part of its diet. It consumes many grasshoppers and beetles as well as smaller mammals like field mice and meadow voles. Like those of other songbirds, the nests of Loggerhead Shrike are vulnerable to a variety of predators including larger birds, snakes and mammals. Raptors such as Cooper’s Hawk may also take adult shrikes, and mammals, including free-ranging outdoor cats, may prey on fledglings.


Where to See in Virginia

In Virginia, Loggerhead Shrikes can be challenging to find due to their dwindling populations and the fact that most of their habitat is located on privately owned lands. For a chance at finding the bird, visit the areas listed below, which are locations where Loggerhead Shrikes have been documented.

An image of a meadow; ideal loggerhead shrike territory

Loggerhead Shrike territory in Pulaski county.

Tip: Be on the lookout for them perched on fences, utility lines, or natural shrubby vegetation.

Places to try for a Loggerhead Shrike sighting:

An image of another meadow with sparse trees; also ideal loggerhead shrike territory

Loggerhead Shrike territory in Smyth county.


The Road to Recovery

Loggerhead Shrike artwork by Virginia Cannici. This winner of the DWR's Restore the Wild art contest will be used to promote the Restore the Wild initiative and raise awareness of Loggerhead Shrike.

Artwork by Virginia Cannici

The Loggerhead Shrike is estimated to have declined across large swaths of its North American range by as much as 76% since the mid-1960s, when the North American Breeding Bird Survey began tracking bird population trends. With the species all but extirpated as a breeder in states north of Virginia, the Commonwealth now remains its stronghold in the Northeast. In addition, a small remnant breeding population is found in the Canadian province of Ontario; this population is boosted through the release of shrikes bred in captivity, including individuals produced at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia. Shrikes are much more abundant in the southeastern US, although those populations are also declining. 

The precise causes of shrike population declines are still unknown. While habitat loss may have contributed to the loss of shrikes in the Northeast, this does not seem to be the case in Virginia; here suitable habitat is still abundant, yet much of it remains unoccupied. Investigations elsewhere have not definitively identified a cause for the species’ decline. What is needed to answer these questions is research collaboration across a broad, multi-state region.

This need led to the formation of the Loggerhead Shrike Working Group in 2013. The Working Group coordinates a multi-state banding project to understand how shrike populations in eastern North America are connected to one another, and therefore whether different populations may be vulnerable to similar threats. The ultimate goal is to identify and address the factors contributing to shrike population declines across its range. This is no small feat, considering that the species is migratory and so moves between seasons; declines may therefore be taking place on the breeding grounds, wintering grounds, and/or during migration. In 2020, work was begun on a model to identify where and during what times of year demographic bottlenecks related to shrike age and sex are occurring. This model will allow the Working Group to focus on specific geographies and times of year to identify the factors responsible for the species’ downward trajectory.

What the DWR Has Done/Is Doing

An image of a banded loggerhead shrike

Banding a Loggerhead Shrike.

Much of what we know about the basic breeding and wintering ecology of shrikes in Virginia is the result of the Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) funding of two studies by Virginia Tech in the 1980s. Those projects were focused in the Shenandoah Valley in Augusta, Rockingham and Shenandoah counties. The DWR funded follow-up surveys through Virginia Tech in 1996 and 1997: of nearly 50 sites where breeding had been documented in the 1980s, only one site was still occupied. The surveys covered 51 counties in the Coastal Plain, Piedmont and Mountains and Valleys regions, documenting shrikes in 12 of those counties.

The DWR is one of the founding members of the Loggerhead Shrike Working Group. We have led shrike survey and banding efforts in Virginia with the help and support of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), the US Forest Service, and the many landowners who have allowed us access to their properties. As of Feb 2022, we have trapped and banded 59 individual shrikes during the winter and spring. The majority of these birds were hatched in the year of capture or captured in their second year of life, suggesting that the Virginia shrike population may be skewed toward younger birds.

An image of a banded loggerhead shrike having it's wing held out to determine gender

Determining the age and sex of a Loggerhead Shrike.

Through this and other survey work by SCBI, West Virginia University and the second Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas, we know that shrikes are currently most abundant west of the Blue Ridge, particularly in areas of southwest Virginia, and are also found scattered in lower numbers across the Piedmont. In addition, the banding project has confirmed the connection between shrike populations in the Commonwealth and those in Ontario: to date, four individuals banded in Ontario during the breeding season have been re-sighted in Virginia during the fall and winter months. In addition, a breeding female banded in Virginia was unexpectedly re-sighted in Ontario some months later. Furthermore, genetic analyses of feathers collected during banding show that Virginia hosts three different shrike subspecies, suggesting complex connections with shrike populations in other states.

Although it is unknown to what degree habitat loss has contributed to the overall decline of Virginia’s shrikes, loss of habitat can certainly lead to the loss of shrikes from a local area.

An image of a meadow with sparse trees; an ideal habitat for the loggerhead shrike

Dick Cross Wildlife Management Area

The DWR is working to attract shrikes to our Dick Cross Wildlife Management Area through a habitat improvement project in 2022; shrikes have been reported from this general area of Mecklenburg County between 2016 and 2018. This project was made possible through funds from DWR’s Restore the Wild Membership program.

Learn more about our  work

How You Can Help

  • Purchase a Restore the Wild Membership to support the DWR’s habitat restoration work, such as that in progress for Loggerhead Shrike at Dick Cross WMA. The membership also serves as your pass to visit this WMA and over 40 others throughout the Commonwealth. Logo of the Virginia Restore the Wild Initiative
  • Donate to DWR’s Non-game Fund to support research and conservation of Virginia’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need, such as the Loggerhead Shrike, as well as to support conservation education and wildlife viewing recreation.
  • Create a habitat patch. If you are a landowner, consider a community effort to support shrike habitat. Shrikes are more likely to live in an area where at least 15% of the landscape consists of their preferred habitat. For assistance with a shrike habitat project, refer to the Shrike Landowners Guide (although written for Ontario, its principles apply to shrike habitat in Virginia) and contact your local DWR Private Lands Wildlife Biologist for a consultation.
  • Report banded or unbanded shrikes to DWR by email at or by calling. Please include the date, time and location of sighting, and other pertinent information, such as whether you noticed that the shrike had leg bands.
  • Start e-Birding. Submit all of your Loggerhead Shrike observations to eBird. This public database is utilized by ornithologists and conservationists, including DWR biologists. Your observations actively help inform their work!


American Bird Conservancy (on-line). Loggerhead Shrike. Accessed November 29, 2021 at

Audubon: Guide to North American Birds (on-line). Loggerhead Shrike. Accessed December 6, 2021 at

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, (2019). Loggerhead Shrike, All About Birds

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, (2019). Northern Mockingbird, All About Birds

IUCN Red List (on-line). Loggerhead Shrike. Accessed December 14, 2021 at

Porter, C. 2000. “Lanius ludovicianus” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 06, 2021 at

The Loggerhead Shrike Working Group. (2017). About The Loggerhead Shrike.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (2000). Loggerhead Shrike Status Assessment

Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. (2021). Special Status Faunal Species in Virginia

Wildlife Preservation Canada. (2015). Loggerhead Shrike An Ontario Landowner’s Guide. Accessed November 29, 2021 at

Yosef, R. (2020). Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Jessica Ruthenberg, DWR Watchable Wildlife Biologist; Sergio Harding, DWR Non-game Bird Conservation Biologist; Rachel Tripp, DWR Watchable Wildlife Intern.

Last updated: February 7, 2024

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