Posted by: atowhee | June 19, 2012

A FLASH OF BLACK AND WHITE

Driving the monotone landscape in eastern Oregon I keep waiting for that telltale flash of black and white that shoots across the road in front of my car. Then I slam on the brakes and try to locate the Loggerhead Shrike. There is one other Malheurian species that shows black and white in flight but the breeding Willets only show those colors while they swirl and cry high overhead. It is not Willet-like to race across the road at six feet elevation. That’s pure Shrikeness. An avid predator and thus observer of all motion, the Shrike can often be found perched on a wire, like a Kestrel or blackbird. Though classified among the songbirds, the shrikes have hooked beaks and the lifestyle of a small raptor.
The shrike species are found mostly in the Old World. Our two shrike species must come from birds that made it across the Siberian land bridge. There are NO shrikes in South Americe. Yet shrikes are widespread in the warmner parts of Europe, Africa and Asia as far east as New Guinea.
This is abold bird. I once played ring-around-the rosy, with a shrike as I tried to get a picture of the bird’s nest in a small bush at Nalheur. As I circled looking for the right opening in the foliage, the parent bird stayed on the opposite side of the bush. We were never more than five feet apart and the nesting bird’s eyes never left mine.
The are about 30 species of shrike in the world, including the fiscals in Africa which can be colorful as well as bold. Most members of the shrike family hav e dark facial markings, masks for their eyes, perhaps to prevent the prey animals from suspecting what’s about to happen.
Like Kestrel, Burrowing Owl and many other small predatory birds, the Loggerhead has been greatly reduced in numbers and breeding range by the onslaught od American agribusiness, pavement, pesticides and persecution. In Oregon it does not breed west of the Cascades and is found primarily in flat, sagebrush country or grasslands with taller shrubs scattered about. The Loggerhead is found as far south as Mexico and northward into Canada where its range impinges on that of the slightly larger Northern Shrike. The status of the Loggerhead for its fans, such as myself, is an unhappy one. As BIRDS OF OREGON says, “Declining throughout most of its range.” Not yet endangered, it is considered a “sensitive species” here in Oregon. In areas like Malheur and surrounding shrub-steppe where agriculture is limited the shrike is doing OK.


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