Contributed by Alexander Sprunt, Jr.
[Published in 1950: Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 197: 131-148]
Among the earliest ornithological memories of the writer is the search for nests of the "French mockingbird" amid the myrtle bushes of the back beach of Sullivans Island, near Charleston, S.C. On this narrow barrier of sea sand, which has figured so largely in history since the days when Sir Peter Parker's fleet was turned away by the batteries of palmetto-logged Fort Moultrie, many Low Country bird records have helped make ornithological fame locally. It was a happy hunting ground for several kindred spirits of schoolboy days, and birds' eggs were mediums of exchange for various and sundry other specimens of beach and marsh. In few other areas since has the writer ever found the loggerhead shrike such a characteristic bird and will always associate it with this spot for it was among the first half dozen species of his "life list." Though having shown it to many others for their "first" since, long acquaintance with it has not dimmed interest in its attractive way of life.
Misunderstood and rather frowned upon by the uninformed, the loggerhead is one of the decidedly beneficial and valuable birds of its range and its activities are a natural asset of no mean proportions. As its name implies, it was described from Louisiana, by Linnaeus, but the bird is no more typical of that State than many other parts of its habitat.
Spring.--There is little change in the seasonal numbers of the loggerhead in most of its range except in the northern limits. Elsewhere the population remains largely static as the species is resident throughout most of the country it frequents. Certainly, numbers in coastal South Carolina, Georgia, and most of Florida, and the Gulf coast do not vary appreciably. In North Carolina (eastern) there is a slight southward movement in fall and a return in spring but it is not pronounced. Some confusion may exist in that State by the overlapping occurrence of L. l. migrans and the difficulty of differentiating between the two in the field. That both ludovicianus and migrans occur together there has been demonstrated by T. D. Burleigh, who secured specimens of each at Tarboro, Edgecombe County, N. C., in January 1931 (Pearson and Brimley, 1942).
Courtship.--The courtship performance is not particularly elaborate or widely commented upon. It is undertaken with much fluttering of the wings and some spreading of the tail in display on the part of the male. Considerable erratic chases of the female occur at times, the birds twisting and turning almost like sandpipers over the surf, for apparently the female does not take very kindly to watching the male display at length.
Audubon (1842) was somewhat cavalier in his opinion of this phase of the loggerhead's way of life. He says flatly that "the male courts the female without much regard, and she, in return, appears to receive his haughty attentions with merely just as much condescension as enables her to become the mother of a family, whose feelings are destined to be of the same cold nature." He follows this later in his account with a quotation from Rev. John Bachman as follows: "You speak of the male showing but little attachment to the female. I have thought differently, and so would you were you to watch him carrying. . .a grasshopper or cricket to her, pouncing upon the Crow and even the Buzzard, that approach the nest, and invariably driving these intruders away. Indeed I consider these birds as evidencing great attachment toward each other."
Living in the same area from which Dr. Bachman wrote these words, and where he saw so much of the loggerhead, the writer agrees with him completely. He has never noted any trait that would tend to prove that the loggerhead was lacking in domestic responsibility.
Nesting.--This species is an early nester, even in regions where early nesting is indulged by other avian forms. It is another point of similarity to the birds of prey, for the loggerhead is decidedly reminiscent of that order in many ways. Though Florida shows the earliest dates for nesting (which is to be expected) there is not a great deal of difference between it and coastal South Carolina or Georgia. In all of these the loggerhead sometimes begins nest-building in February, but March is more nearly normal.
Arthur H. Howell (1932) lists February 9 as an early Florida record, this nesting being near Gainesville. The birds usually begin to build in the Lake Okeechobee region late in February, and are incubating during the first week of March. In the Pensacola area (much to the north and west) the latter part of March is more typical, and F. M. Weston states that the first brood is raised by "early April." Nests with eggs found by him in mid-May he says are "almost certainly a second brood." Similar dates are typical of southern Georgia. Fresh eggs on or after the middle of May in either region are doubtless a second laying.
C. H. Pangburn (1919) believes that the loggerhead is the third commonest nesting bird in Pinellas County, Fla., and that the young are flying the last week in March. S. A. Grimes (1928) puts it second in the Jacksonville area, outnumbered only by the mockingbird.
Dr. E. E. Murphey, of Augusta, Ga., has a nesting date of March at that locality. Arthur T. Wayne (1919) states that he was informed by G. R. Rossignol that the latter found a nest and five eggs at Savannah on February 15, 1919. Nest-building by this pair began on January 16. This is a very early date and may be considered the earliest Georgia record.
Nesting in South Carolina in some years varies little from that in Florida. Wayne (1910) has noted birds mated by mid-February and says that nests are often built late that month. Bad weather in March frequently delays nest construction, however, and not infrequently the birds abandon original efforts and start new nests. Average time for the Charleston region is late in March. Files at the Charleston Museum show that incubating birds were found by F. M. Weston on March 18, 1913, and March 19, 1911. Wayne's earliest breeding record was March 13, 1917. The writer found a nest with five fresh eggs on March 28, 1914. While living in the city of Charleston he was accustomed to find nests of this species every year on the street in front of his home. There was a line of small live-oak trees planted there (the area was all "made" land, having been reclaimed from the Ashley River), and their thick, tough twigs were ideal nesting sites. One tree, about 12 or 15 feet high, across the street from his house, always had a nest in it every season, and in 1924 one was built and the young raised by mid-April. On June 22 another nest was built in the same tree about 5 feet from the first one (same pair of birds doubtless), which was still in excellent condition. H. K. Job visited the writer while the first nest was in use and photographed it.
In the northern rim of its range (eastern North Carolina) the loggerhead nests noticeably later than elsewhere. T. Gilbert Pearson and the Brimleys (1942) list fresh eggs as having been found in Columbus County on May 6, in Bladen County, May 7, completed nests but no eggs. At the same date, however, young just out of the nest were seen! Probably late in April would be normal for many breeding pairs, just about one month later than South Carolina birds. Again, at the western terminus of its range the loggerhead is late. Dr. H. C. Oberholser (1938) states that "it breeds in Louisiana from April to June, and there is record of eggs as early as April 16." If the latter is an early date for Louisiana it is obvious that the loggerhead is far behind its eastern dates in its western home.
The nest itself is built at medium elevations, never very high and seldom close to the ground; 8 to 15 feet is normal. It picks out heavily twigged growth, though its early habits often reveal the nest to any observer as it is completed before the leaves come out. Young oaks are favorites, and these, of course, retain their leaves. Such trees are widely used in coastal South Carolina, and the species often nests in towns and cities, even on streets carrying considerable traffic.
The loggerhead is a good architect and builder. Though somewhat bulky, the nest is well made and lasts long after its usefulness is over. The materials are usually thick twigs, firmly woven and lined with rootlets or fibers and, in the rural sections, often padded with cotton. The latter is a characteristic item among a varied range of material. Others are string (often used), feathers of various kinds, hair, palmetto fiber, weeds, small sticks, grass, "rabbit-tobacco" (everlasting), rags, and occasionally paper. M. G. Vaiden, of Rosedale, Miss., once found a piece of blue bottle glass in a nest!
E. R. Ford (1936) gives an account of an unusual nesting site with regard to elevation, which he found at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on March 5. The birds began building that day "on one of the lower branches of a long-leafed yellow pine. The site was a little more than fifty feet from the ground. . . . Except on one occasion, I had never seen the nest of any Shrike more than eight or ten feet up [and] I made it a point to observe this one particularly." This height is very abnormal and can be considered the extreme.
Two broods are usually raised, though in coastal South Carolina there are often three in a season. It is interesting to note that Audubon's (1842) account is contradictory in that he says in the early part of his biography of the species that "loggerheads rear only one brood in the season" and later, quoting Rev. John Bachman, that "this species breeds twice in a season." The latter is the correct statement, applying to the greater part of the range.
An example of what amounts to practically colony nesting of the loggerhead is furnished by M. G. Vaiden, or Rosedale, Miss. He says that on April 9, 1937, he was driving near the site of the old town of Concordia (Miss.) now inundated by the river. Along the levee was a hedgerow of dwarf thorn bushes or small trees (Crataegus uniflora), and shrikes were noted flying in and out of them. Careful investigation revealed that nearly every tree held occupied nests, and 14 were found in 13 trees! Eight nests contained eggs; the others were either just completed or still building. Eggs were found in them a few days later. This is a remarkable observation, and the writer has never heard it approached, but Mr. Vaiden says that he once saw another similar instance. This was the finding of seven nests in thorn trees along an unused road also in Mississippi. No two nests were more than 60 feet apart, and it was not over 200 feet from the first to the last nest in a straight line down the road. The writer has often found two or three loggerhead nests in trees fairly close together, the distance of a city block for instance, but never anything that would justify an illustration of colony nesting.
S. A. Grimes (1928) gives an interesting observation of communal use of the same nest by loggerheads as follows:
A nest about eight feet up in an oak, found March 15, 1925, was built on a thrasher nest of the preceding year. Revisiting this nest a week later, I was much astonished to find seven eggs in it, and two broken eggs on the ground below. The eggs were obviously not all laid by the same bird, for five were of a dark ground color and minutely speckled with dark brown, whereas the set of four, two of which were on the ground, were of a much lighter ground color. . . and there were three solicitous Loggerheads berating me on all sides. This was a plain case of avian bigamy. The nest was destroyed a night or two later, apparently by someone's treacherous house cat. Within a day or two, the "pair" began making a new nest fifteen feet up in a pine sapling. . . . On April 5th, this nest held five dark eggs and one light egg. Nine days later it contained three light-colored eggs and only four of the dark variety, and in the grass beneath were two of the less densely speckled eggs. This nest subsequently met the fate of the first. At least nineteen eggs, but from them not one Loggerhead to enhance, with futile loquacity and sprightliness, the attractiveness of a bit of shaded street or tree-lined field.
Eggs.--[AUTHOR'S NOTE: The sets of eggs laid by the loggerhead shrike may consist of four to six eggs, though four and five are probably commoner numbers than six. These are practically indistinguishable from those of other races of the species, which are well described under the California shrike.
The measurements of 50 eggs of this southeastern race, in the United States National Museum, average 24. 2 by 18.7 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 25.9 by 18.3, 23.6 by 19.9, 22.3 by 18.7, and 23.4 by 17.8 millimeters.]
[[EDITOR'S NOTE: The egg description for the "California Shrike" referred to above (Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 197: 165-166) follows:
Eggs of the loggerhead shrike vary from dull white to either light neutral gray or buff in ground color. The spots are usually small, the maximum diameter in most eggs being about 2 1/2 millimeters, but occasionally spots and splotches as large as 6 1/2 millimeters occur. The sharply defined surface markings vary from neutral gray to various tones of yellowish brown and umber. There also are indistinct light gray spots deposited in layers beneath the surface of the eggshell. Occasionally, fine black scrawlings appear near the large end of the eggs. Spots are more concentrated at the large end but rarely are grouped into pronounced blotches with intervening unpigmented areas. A wreath of spots about the large end rarely is present. Out of 150 eggs of Lanius ludovicianus examined by me, 6 instances of reversal of the color pattern, that is, heavy pigmentation on the small end of the egg, have been noted. Four of these examples were in the same set of eggs.]]
[[EDITOR'S NOTE: The plumage description for the "Migrant Shrike" referred to above (Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 197: 152-153) follows:
Plumages.--A very full account of all the plumages of all the North American shrikes has been published by Dr. Alden H. Miller (1931), to which the reader is referred, as the descriptions are given in too much detail to be quoted here. Dr. Dwight (1900) describes the juvenal plumage of migrans as follows: "above, drab-gray, faintly vermiculated and with pale buff edgings; rump slightly paler. Wings and tertiaries buff tipped, palest on the tertiaries; the outer rectrices largely white, the central ones buff, with terminal mottling. Lores, orbital region and auriculars dull black. Below, dull white on chin, abdomen and crissum, washed on breast and sides with very pale buff or drab, vermiculated with dusky subterminal bands on each feather. Bill and feet dusky becoming black."
The first winter plumage is acquired by a partial postjuvenal molt, "in September and October, which involves the body plumage, tertiaries, wing coverts and tail, but not the rest of the wings. Similar to previous plumage but grayer above and the vermiculations absent or very indistinct on the breast. Above, plumbeous gray, paler on rump, the posterior scapulars white.
"Wings and tail black except for the brown juvenal primaries, secondaries and primary coverts, the lesser coverts plumbeous, white tips to the new tertiaries and white terminal spots on the lateral rectrices. Below, dull white with dusky vermiculations sometimes faintly indicated. A broad, black bar through the eye."
He says that in both young and old birds there is a partial prenuptial molt in February and March, "which involves chiefly the chin, throat and head, and a few scattering feathers elsewhere, but neither the wings nor the tail." All individuals have a complete postnuptial molt, mainly in September, but sometimes beginning in July or August, and sometimes prolonged into October or even November.]]
Food.--The local name of loggerhead in many localities, i.e., butcherbird, is indicative of the popular opinion of its food habits. However, popular opinion in this case, as in so many others, is often erroneous in its conclusions. The basis for the rather generally held belief that this species is injurious lies in the undoubted fact that it sometimes does take small birds. This habit, however, is not widely or even generally indulged and is much more the exception than the rule. The condemnation of the bird for it, therefore, is again reminiscent of the treatment meted out to the birds of prey, so widespread and detrimental to that group.
In certain respects the loggerhead exhibits predatory habits, and if such a combination can be visualized it might be said to be a passerine raptor! Not possessing talons with which to grip prey while feeding, it resorts to the well-known and thoroughly characteristic trait of impaling its victims upon thorns, barbed wire, or other sharp projections; hence the local name butcherbird.
Naturally, what birds are taken are small ones. Little of definite information appears in the literature regarding specific varieties, but there is much generalization. Sparrows and warblers appear to make up the bulk of small-bird prey. The writer has seen myrtle warblers (Dendroica coronata) victimized on at least two occasions, and English sparrows (Passer domesticus) are fairly often taken in cities and towns, probably because of the ease with which they are secured.
Wright and Harper (1913) relate that they saw a loggerhead chasing a red-cockaded woodpecker (Dryobates borealis) in the Okefenokee Swamp in southeastern Georgia and found the remains of one young and one adult bluebird (Sialia sialis) on a stump, also the work of the shrike. Pearson and the Brimleys (1942) record the finding of the dried body of a myrtle warbler on a thorn by C. S. Brimley and a similarly treated chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina) by Pearson. The brains of the sparrow had been eaten from a cavity in the back of the skull. Observations by F. H. Craighill are quoted by these authors to the effect that he has seen "young birds" hanging in small plum trees but apparently no identification was made of the young. Craighill is further quoted as saying: "Last week I saw a shrike pursuing a small bird with evident felonious intent. I had never before seen that here [Rocky Mount, N. C.] except when there was snow on the ground and shrike food was scarce." Again, there is no identification of the "small bird."
H. L. Stoddard writes me that a shrike got into a banding trap of one of his neighbors near Beachton, Ga., and killed a chipping sparrow. "The queer part of the thing was that there was a stiff straw through the sparrow's neck," he says. "I went down and got the bird and found that the shrike had pinched at the neck and broken it in several places. The only explanation of the presence of the straw that occurs to me is that the instinct to hang prey on a twig or thorn is a very strong one. The shrike would have been unable to eat the sparrow in the usual way as there was no place in the trap to hang it (and shrikes are probably unable to hold prey in the feet as do birds of prey). Hence it had worked the stiff straw through the neck in an attempt to anchor the bird for eating. At first glance this would seem impossible, but when we remember the skill in nest-building it does not seem so remarkable. The straw was stuck through between the gullet and windpipe just above the breast in the exact spot where shrikes usually hang the small birds they kill."
E. G. Holt (1913) watched a loggerhead near Barachias, Ala., kill a mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos). It was during a severe freeze, and the shrike attacked and pinned down the mocker, striking it repeatedly with its beak and soon killing it. Holt then interrupted proceedings by picking up the dead bird and examining it; then, as he held it in his outstretched hand, the shrike returned and attempted to take it. Subsequent observation revealed that it removed the mockingbird's entrails through a small hole above the kidneys.
Loggerheads rather frequently incur the wrath of owners of canaries in attacks on these cage birds. When a cage is placed on a porch or anywhere outside, it seems to be an irresistible attraction to shrikes in the vicinity. When one alights on the cage it produces panic in the canary, which, instead of remaining in the middle of the perch where it would be perfectly safe, often sticks its head out between the bars. Thereupon it is clipped neatly off by the shrike, or so pierced by its beak that death is the result. The writer's mother lost three canaries in this way while summering on a beach resort near Charleston, S. C., a place where loggerheads were abundant.
The food of the loggerhead is nearly entirely animal in character. Food of eastern shrikes is wholly of this category, though examination of some of the western subspecies showed that vegetable matter amounted of 2.5 percent (F. E. L. Beal, 1912). Professor Beal's researches further revealed that the eastern bird shows a breakdown of 68 percent insects, 4 percent spiders, and 28 percent vertebrates. These studies were based on the contents of 88 stomachs. Distinct seasonal variation appears in the food take, for it has been established that the warm seasons show a preponderance of insect prey secured, while in winter the greater part consists of mice and small birds.
Among the insects the Orthoptera compose the largest item. Grasshoppers and crickets make up 39 percent. In August and September these constitute 70 percent of the total food, though they are taken in every month of the year. Among the crickets, which are not so acceptable as grasshoppers, the so-called wood cricket is often taken, numbers of the genus Stenopelmatus being particularly noticeable. These insects usually live under leaves and stones and avoid light but not to the extent of remaining undetected by the remarkable vision of the loggerhead.
Beetles are eaten to the amount of somewhat in excess of 16 percent. Ground beetles (Carabidae) and carrion beetles (Silphidae) compose 7 percent of this total; the rest are harmful varieties. Ants and wasps are represented by only 3 percent, the latter outnumbering the former. Moths and caterpillars form 4 percent. Bugs, flies, and a few other odd insects total 5 percent.
Spiders make up 4 percent of the loggerhead's diet, while the vertebrates (28 percent) include mammals, birds, and reptiles. Of these, mice compose by far the bulk. A. H. Howell (1932) quotes Judd (1898) as saying that mice are taken "at all seasons and in winter comprise half the food." He adds that "birds make up only 8 percent of the food for the year." Certainly, this predilection of the loggerhead for mice, and the fact that half the winter food is made up of these animals, should go far to prove the great value of the shrike to agricultural interests. Audubon went the length of saying that mice "form the principal food of the grown birds at all seasons."
Alexander Wilson (Wilson and Bonaparte, 1832) wrote that on the rice plantations of Carolina and Georgia "it [the loggerhead] is protected for its usefulness in destroying mice." He describes it as sitting near stacks of rice and "watching like a cat; and as soon as it perceives a mouse, darts on it like a Hawk." Evidently the loggerhead was more appreciated in Carolina then than it is now.
Occasionally, extraneous items appear in the shrike's food, or attacks are made on forms not usually associated with its diet. N.C. Longee, of Gainesville, Fla. (Howell, 1932), saw a shrike bring a number of large, live cattle ticks to a barbed-wire fence and impale them thereon. Howell once saw a lizard being eaten. F. M. Weston states that he witnessed near Pensacola, Fla., the chase of a bat by a shrike on "a bright summer day," but the animal eluded two attacks and escaped. The writer has seen a loggerhead chase a bat once and failed to secure it. Weston adds that he once found a small terrapin of "quarter-dollar size" that had been taken and impaled by a loggerhead. E. S. Dingle, of Huger, S.C., writes that he saw a loggerhead kill a frog, fly away with it in the beak for a short distance, and then transfer it to the feet in flight. The frog was carried about 200 feet in this manner to a live-oak tree.
Audubon (1842) quotes the Rev. John Bachman as saying: "I have seen one [shrike] occupy himself for hours in sticking up [on thorns]. . .a number of small fishes that the fishermen had thrown on the shore. . . . The fishes dried up and decayed."
Pearson and the Brimleys (1942) give an interesting observation on the shrike "larder" in a residential section of High Point, Guilford County, N.C. It was composed of "no less than fifteen small snakes" impaled on the thorns of a bush. They also state that F. H. Craighill, of Rocky Mount, N. C., found a loggerhead's cache of a snake, a crayfish, and a grasshopper.
Alluding once more to its bird-killing propensities, observations by S. A. Grimes, of Jacksonville, Fla. (1928), reveal that the loggerheads "take fledgling English Sparrows from their nests in holes made by woodpeckers. Perched in the entrance, heedless of the frantic chattering of the sparrows without, the Shrike, in each instance, appeared to be having no little difficulty seizing one of the young sparrows. The squealing victim was invariably held by the head. On one occasion the struggling sparrow succeeded in freeing itself, but was recaptured and promptly thrust on a barb of a nearby fence."
Behavior.--The loggerhead presents a striking combination of absolute immobility and intense activity. To see one sitting on a telephone wire awaiting prey is to see a bird as motionless as if it were cast in bronze. The next moment it may be dashing through the air like a winged meteor to pounce accurately upon a spot many yards away. These alternating periods of activity and inactivity are very characteristic.
Essentially a bird of open country, it is a still hunter in the main and always chooses an elevated and conspicuous perch. This may be the topmost twig of a tree or bush, roadside wires or fences, or any such advantage giving a wide and uninterrupted view. Charlotte H. Green, however (1933), states that the bird has "another method of hunting. Like the crows, he sometimes sneaks up on his victim from the ground." She gives no specific observation relating to such procedure, and it must be a rather uncommon occurrence. The writer has never happened to witness it in his long experience with the species, and certainly it is not freely indulged.
The vision of the loggerhead is phenomenal, even for a bird. That it can and does see insects at remarkable distances is unquestioned. When living in the Battery Section of Charleston in an area then being developed residentially, the writer has often sat on the porch and watched loggerheads hunting in adjacent vacant lots. Frequently a bird would pitch off the wires and glide, or fly, 50 to 70 yards in a direct line to a spot in the grasses and seize a grasshopper. No hovering or hesitancy is shown in these sudden dashes. The bird goes directly to a specific spot, and there is no doubt whatever that the intended prey was seen before the bird left the perch.
Weather affects the activity of the loggerhead because it reacts on the food supply. S. A. Grimes (1928) says: "Two of the elements greatly facilitate the capturing of food for the Shrike. Heavy rains drive the subterranean inhabitants to the surface, where they are exposed to the bird's keen sight; and the grass fire, routing numberless insects, form a veritable cornucopia for this and other species." Weather has adverse effects also as witnessed by F. M. Weston, of Pensacola, Fla., who says: "After the prolonged freeze of January 1940, both shrikes and sparrow hawks (Falco sparverius) disappeared from this region for the rest of the winter." The absence of two species sharing the same sort of food leads him to believe that intense and prolonged cold "did away with the winter insect life right down to the grass roots," a most reasonable and logical conclusion.
The flight of the loggerhead is accomplished by very rapid vibrations of the wings, an almost labored fluttering, it seems. It does not, however, give the impression of wasted energy. Periods of sailing intervene, and the course is usually at low elevations. When selecting a perch it sweeps upward to it in a steep glide. When leaving, it drops a few feet, then catches the air with the wings, and proceeds with the characteristic rapid beats. The speed attained in flight has been given by Gordon Aymar (1935) at 22 to 28 m.p.h. based on "specific records."
A sidelight on the flight is indicated by A. L. Pickens, of Paducah, Ky., who writes: "Another name for the loggerhead shrike in the south is cotton-picker, probably from its bobbing waves of flight above the cotton rows, as if darting down here and there to pluck off a fleece." The writer has never heard this name applied to the bird anywhere in its range but would think that its derivation would be much more apt to apply to the frequent use of cotton in nest-building than the "probable" reason given above.
The outstanding trait of the loggerhead is its habit of impaling victims on thorns, barbed-wire fences, and similar sharp projections. This accounts for the local name so universally in vogue--butcherbird. Supposedly, it is done for the reason of storing a food supply, but probably also to assist in tearing the prey apart in many cases, as the loggerhead does not have very strong claws. The future food supply idea is, no doubt, much more applicable to the northern shrike (Lanius borealis), for the food of the loggerhead's range is so abundant and constantly available that there is rarely an occasion when the bird has to resort to already secured prey. Conversely, there are doubtless times when the northern bird is hard put to it in winter and uses a larder far more frequently. Regarding the loggerhead, indeed, many have questioned whether it ever does return to impaled prey. The frequent finding of dried bodies of birds, snakes, and insects by many observers, ignored completely by the bird, leads to such an impression.
Pearson and the Brimleys (1942) states: "Whether this bird hangs up food for future use has not been definitely established. The authors of this book have not known shrikes to return to the grasshoppers, beetles. . .that they had impaled." However, it is certainly the case that this is sometimes done. H. H. Stoddard writes me: "There used to be a question in my mind as to whether shrikes ever returned to their food caches, after such prey had dried out through hanging on a twig or wire. I settled this question to my satisfaction one day in the yard here at home [Sherwood Plantation, Grady County, Ga.]. Noticing a shrike flying through the yard with a sizable object, I grabbed up a clod and threw it at the shrike, which dropped the object. This proved to be a brittle dead twig about 2 inches long, to which firmly adhered the dried remains of a myrtle warbler. Evidently the shrike had returned to prey hung many days before and in trying to remove the warbler had broken off the twig that anchored it."
So, then, it is safe to conclude that the loggerhead does not ordinarily return to impaled prey but occasionally does so.
Curiously enough, Audubon (1842) makes this remarkable statement: "I have never seen it attach birds, nor stick its prey on thorns in the manner of the Great American Shrike." Whether he means that he did not actually see this accomplished, or whether he never found any evidence of it, is not clear, but it seems that the latter was meant. If so, it is almost beyond belief, since he spent much time in the loggerhead's range, and it would be most natural to conclude that he would have found something of the sort during his expeditions. He does, however, quote the Rev. John Bachman, who wrote him that he had "never found either this or the Northern Shrike return to such prey for food. . . . I have seen them alight on the same thorn bush afterwards, but never made any use of this kind of food."
Some evidence that the loggerhead occasionally indulges in a kind of play, reminiscent of certain hawks, is contained in an observation related to me by Herbert R. Sass, of Charleston, S.C. He happened to be watching a pigeon sitting on the roof of his house one day, when a loggerhead suddenly appeared in the air behind and above the pigeon and, diving straight at it, struck it a resounding blow in the back! The startled pigeon was knocked completely off the roof and fell several feet before recovering its balance and spreading its wings. No effort was made by the shrike as a follow-up; apparently it simply indulged a sudden impulse, as it cannot be supposed that it meant to seek the pigeon as prey.
An observation of E. J. Reimann (1938) reveals a rather unusual encounter between a loggerhead and a yellow chicken snake (Elaphe q. quadrivittata) at Marco Island, Fla. While perhaps an indication of an attempt to secure food, it may have been an instance of the tendency to play, similar to that above, for the size of the snake would rather preclude the idea of the bird being able to dispatch it. At any rate, Reimann says that noting a group of men watching something on the ground, he found the shrike attacking a snake. He says:
The snake would crawl forward over the ground, and the shrike would fly down from a telegraph wire and, hovering over the snake, would pounce down, grasp the snake by the tail, rise in the air about six inches, and let the tail drop. The snake would immediately fall into a defensive coil and the shrike would alight on the ground about two feet away. It remained there until the snake again wandered off; then it would hover, pounce, and grasp the tail as before. Sitting along a telegraph wire close by, were four newly fledged young shrikes. . .a Mockingbird was also perched on the wire, but the young shrikes took no part in the combat. Due to coming dusk, the shrikes finally moved off and I threw the snake under an old building, to save it from the crowd that had gathered there.
Another instance of a shrike-snake encounter is submitted by M. G. Vaiden, but it appears to be directly an attempt at securing food. Driving along a country road on July 4, 1926, he saw a shrike flying across ahead of him carrying, with great difficulty, a snake in its beak. At last it reached the top of a telephone pole, and there a real battle took place. The snake was very much alive and twisted, beat, and turned energetically while the shrike kept striking at it with its beak. After several minutes of watching, he states, "I broke up this feeding, as I had more feeling for the snake than for the shrike." Throwing a clod or two at the pair was enough to drive the bird off, and the snake dropped to the ground, still alive but somewhat "bunged up." It proved to be a rough-scaled green snake (Opheodrys aestivus) and measured 16 1/2 inches long. He concludes by adding: "Unfortunately I did not weigh this reptile, but I know that the shrike was handling much more than its own weight. The lifting power of the shrike must be more than the average expected of small birds." This is a very interesting observation as it reveals the loggerhead as proportionately more powerful than the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). The latter is said by most authorities to be unable to lift more than its own weight, or at the maximum, very little more. The shrike in the foregoing account was handling "much more" than its own weight, though Mr. Vaiden does admit that the snake was not actually weighed. None the less, it is a striking illustration of the virility and determination embodied in this passerine species.
The loggerhead maintains definite territorial limits and protects them assiduously. S. A. Grimes states that he has often noticed that "each pair of shrikes has an apparently well-defined domain of its own, which it holds defiantly to the exclusion of others of its kind." Other species often nest in fairly close proximity, however, without molestation.
Some observers have considered the loggerhead as a quarrelsome species, but, though instances of it no doubt take place, the writer has never been impressed with this as a characteristic. On the whole, the bird gets along very well with its avian neighbors, some of which are very close neighbors at times. Audubon (1842) had a rather poor opinion of the loggerhead's disposition, for he says, in explanation of his drawing, that "I have given you, kind reader, the representative of a pair of the Shrikes, contending for a mouse. The difference of plumage in the sexes is scarcely perceptible; but I have thought it necessary to figure both, in order to shew the quarrelsome disposition of these birds even when united by the hymeneal band."
Voice.--Though the loggerhead has little reputation in vocal performance, it has always seemed to the writer that what attainment is reached has been rather cavalierly treated in the literature. Few descriptions of its notes are complimentary! While it can hardly be said to be a singer, its efforts in spring are worthy of some notice and, in certain individuals at any rate, possess a surprisingly melodious quality. It is true that such notes are interspersed with others anything but musical, but the general effect is a liquid tone that is definitely pleasing.
Howell (1932) says: "The birds are not noisy but most of their notes are harsh and unmusical; occasionally one makes an attempt at singing, which Chapman describes as 'a series of guttural gurgles, squeaky whistles and shrill pipes.' " It is the impression of the writer that all male shrikes "make an attempt at singing" during the nesting season. In coastal South Carolina and the Okeechobee region of Florida he feels certain that the song is indulged by all mated birds. Shrikes are abundant in both areas, and the writer is intimately acquainted with them. While "guttural" is apt enough to describe many of the notes, and it is the case that "most of the calls are harsh and unmusical," this applies more to the alarm and call notes than the song, if this term can be employed. Some of the latter are very liquid, flutelike, and appealing, so much so that many observers are surprised to find them issuing from a loggerhead.
Peterson (1939) is rather more generous in his comments, saying that the song of the loggerhead is "similar to that of the Northern Shrike," which he describes as "a long-continued thrasher-like succession of phrases, harsher on the whole than the Thrasher's song." It is this writer's experience that the loggerhead's efforts are seldom "long-continued," but it is refreshing to hear the bird compared to the thrasher! One could ask little better.
Peterson has an able foundation in his comparison in a statement made long ago by one who knew the loggerhead well--the Rev. John Bachman, of Charleston, S. C. It was this genial gentleman's observations that considerably augmented Audubon's account of the loggerhead in the Birds of America, the latter saying without reservation that "my friend the Rev. John Bachman has had much better opportunities of studying them." In regard to the vocal efforts he (Bachman) wrote Audubon (1842): "You say it has no song. This is true in part, but it has other notes than the grating sounds you attribute to it. During the breeding season, and indeed nearly all summer, the male. . .makes an effort at a song, which I cannot compare to anything nearer than the first attempts of a young Brown Thrush. . . . At times the notes are not unpleasing, but very irregular."
Yet another allusion to similarity with the thrasher's song comes from A. L. Pickens, of Paducah, Ky., who writes: "At times I have had to pause and take note to determine whether the birds' notes, softened in spring by the mating urge, and in fall and winter by distance, might not be thrasher, sparrow, or bluebird."
A. T. Wayne (1910) states: "Although the song of this species is considered by most ornithologists to be hard and unmusical, I have heard a few individuals which sang very sweetly."
Economic Status.--Aside from its undoubted value to agriculture in its considerable destruction of injurious small mammals and insects, a fact well recognized by informed people, the loggerhead assumes added importance to stockmen by reason of a comparatively recent discovery. At the 1929 meeting of the American Ornithologist's Union in Philadelphia, a paper was read by Dr. Eloise B. Cram (1930) dealing with birds as factors in the control of a stomach worm in swine. While the details of it cannot be quoted here it is of great interest to note the conclusions reached. The investigation resulted "from the discovery made by H. L. Stoddard several years ago that the Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius l. ludovicianus) in northern Florida, chiefly in Leon county, and in southern Georgia, chiefly in Grady County, were infested with large numbers of roundworms encysted in the wall of the digestive tract. These parasites were identified by the writer as spirurid larvae and the infestation as a case of aberrant parasitism. . .the larvae being a host other than the correct final host and therefore incapable of further development." Careful study was undertaken of birds so infested, and it was found that the dung-beetle (Phanaeus carnifex) remains in shrikes' stomachs were "practically one hundred percent heavily parasitized with the same larval round worm as was found in the shrikes." Extensive feeding experiments were carried out in order to find the final host of the parasite, larvae taken from the shrikes being fed to a series of experimental animals. Coming to the summary of the entire undertaking the writer quotes Miss Cram again:
Larval roundworms found. . .encysted in the walls of the digestive tract of Loggerhead Shrikes. . .were identified. . .as Physocephalus sexalatus, the adult form of which occurs in the stomach of swine. The dung beetles. . .were found to serve as the first and normal intermediate hosts of the parasite in this locality [northern Fla. and southern Ga., in counties named above named]. Reencystment of the larvae was found to occur in a wide variety of animals. . . . It is pointed out that beetle-consuming animals, of which birds are the most important, are therefore a significant factor in limiting the degree of infestation of swine with Physocephalus sexalatus in such an area.
This is a most interesting account and revelation and should be of value to those engaged in hog-raising probably in other parts of the Southeast. The loggerhead is an abundant bird in the cattle-ranch areas of Florida, notably the Lake Okeechobee and Kissimmee Prairie regions, and it may be that its value in that area is equal to good done in the more northern parts of the State. At any rate it is commended to all who are interested in the welfare of the loggerhead and its economic importance to humanity, directly and indirectly.
Field marks.--The loggerhead is hardly to be confused with any other species except the mockingbird. To the latter, however, it bears such a resemblance that many inexperienced observers confuse the two birds, though the similarity is largely superficial. Casual acquaintance on the part of the general public has resulted in the often heard local name of "French mockingbird," but even this term infers that there is a variation between the two for, as some put it, the prefix "French" implies a more striking appearance and the result is a fancy mockingbird!
A. L. Pickens states: "The Cherokee Indians appear to have confused the mockingbird with the loggerhead under a common name meaning 'heads-it-eats' or 'head-eaters,' which has given rise to the legend among them that the mockingbird attains its wonderful powers of mimicry by eating the heads (singing parts) of other birds."
The shrike, however, is a much chunkier bird than the mocker, and the gray is markedly lighter in shade, much resembling that of the gray kingbird (Tyrannus dominicensis). The large head, which is the reason for the name loggerhead, is always very noticeable even in silhouette; while the black line through the eye, amounting almost to a mask, is easy to see and contrasts sharply with this lack in the mockingbird.
The entire plumage pattern is very contrasting, the blacks, grays, and whites being distinctly defined and not blending. The tail while at rest appears very slim, and the very heavy forepart of the bird suggests a somewhat top-heavy appearance. Unlike the larger northern shrike, there is no barring on the breast.
These characters, together with the habit of the bird in
selecting such conspicuous perches and its rapid vibratory flight,
combine to render it plainly distinctive after a little experience
in the field.
Loggerhead Shrike* Lanius ludovicianus
*Original Source: Bent, Arthur Cleveland. 1950. Smithsonian Institution United States National Museum Bulletin 197: 131-148. United States Government Printing Office