There are a few animals or birds which live on the farm that are rarely seen. A fox or coyote may hunt the hay fields and pastures everyday but we rarely ever see them. A mink or a weasel hunts for voles along the bank of the creek but they too are rarely ever seen.
A horned owl hoots from the deep woods, staying under cover until its time to ambush his prey. A screech owl spends the day in a hole in a tree limb. At sunset he sits in the hole and watches for mice, never moving a muscle until just before he strikes.
All these birds and animals depend on stealth and cunning to help them catch a meal. The idea is not to be obvious while staying alert.
Another bird which is a rare sight is the northern shrike. The shrike stays along the edges of thickets and fence rows, hiding while he waits for a vole or small bird. Like a hawk, he’s very quick at the art of ambush and his persistence eventually pays off.
The northern shrike is about the size of a robin or blue jay and is often mistaken for the jay when he flies.
Often they will hang around a farm yard hoping they will catch a mouse or house sparrow. Occasionally they will attempt to ambush the bird feeder, giving chase to the tree sparrows and juncos.
Old timers called the shrike "The butcher bird" because of their habit of casting their prey on the thorns of a thorn bush or the sharp barb of a barbed-wire fence.
When trying to lure some sparrows out from a brush pile, the shrike will sing a miss-mash of various melodic songs. Any small bird who flies out thinking the coast is clear, may get caught by the waiting shrike.
Next time you see a winter bird sitting all alone on a fence post, wire or bare tree, give it a closer look. The bird you see could be a shrike. When he flies he glides with every few wing beats, similar to the flight of a woodpecker.
Know what to look for may help you get a look at one of nature’s most interesting birds. The northern shrike.
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