Beware the Butcher Bird – A Winter Visitor

One of my favorite winter pastimes is watching songbirds. In Minnesota, there is no shortage of chickadees and jays, among other cold-weather residents. Cardinals are also a favorite sight. They can be found at feeders and in shrubs. They are striking birds, especially when their bright red feathers contrast a white, snowy landscape.

One bird that is less commonly seen during wintertime is the Northern Shrike. I had the good fortune of watching one. It was a stunning bird. I was enamored. Then, when I researched the beautiful songbird, I was shocked. The shrike is a predatory bird!

I didn’t know there were predatory songbirds. Well, I realized they like to dine on bugs, but I found out there are also perching birds that eat larger things like rodents and (gulp) other birds. The shrike is predatory by nature. And from what I’ve learned, they are very aggressive. The bird will often perform massacre-style killing and store its excess, especially during times when food is scarce. I’m guessing winter is one such time.

While the shrike’s behavior is pretty savage, it sure is a beautiful creature: gray and white with a black eye mask. One of the things I appreciate is it’s patience. Most songbirds don’t sit so long on one perch, but the shrike does.

When I was privileged to watch one, it provided me a good, long look. Nevertheless, I knew it was simply waiting for its next victim to appear so it could use its hooked beak as a weapon. So much brutality from a small, lovely bird!

Northern Shrikes breed in the far north regions of the continent, but they come to Minnesota during winter. They perch. They hunt. They kill and eat. Look out, chickadees! Watch your backs, cardinals! You never know when a “butcher bird” is going to show up.

While I’m a nature AND peace-loving girl, I guess I have to take the pleasant with the reality that the animal world has ways that aren’t… well… nice. Northern Shrikes are given to violence.

Such is the way of nature.