Saturday, January 15, 2011

Northern Shrike With Prey

We went in search of the snowy owl that has recently been spotted in northern Rice County (see Dan Tallman's wonderful photos) but came up empty on that one. We saw a number of other birdwatchers slowly driving around the area on the same mission, and stopped to exchange words with several of them. When we had tired of the hunt and were on our way back into Northfield on Wall Street Road, we saw a bird on a wire that turned out on closer examination to be a northern shrike. I had seen my first one of these on the recent Christmas Bird Count outing just a few weeks ago, not too far from where we were today, so it may even have been the same bird.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the northern shrike thus:
A predatory songbird, the Northern Shrike breeds in taiga and tundra and winters in southern Canada and the northern United States. It feeds on small birds, mammals, and insects, sometimes impaling them on spines or barbed wire fences.
The bird we'd seen soon disappeared from the wire and we saw it much closer to us on the snow at the near side of the road. It returned to the wire and then again to the same spot on the ground, where we suddenly realized it had prey. I couldn't tell, but Dave says the animal was still alive when he first saw it. I was lucky enough to catch these three photos of the bird with its prey, which looks like a vole.


Be sure to click on the photos to see them larger.



Then, while I was trying to switch my camera to the quick-burst format (great for capturing birds in motion),but before I had accomplished it, the shrike picked up its kill and we watched it fly away low over the field until it disappeared into the distance. We were quite impressed by how far it flew without stopping, bearing such a load.

This was quite an amazing encounter and I am thrilled to have captured this fascinating bird in action.

9 comments:

Hilke Breder said...

Wow! Great capture!

Richard said...

Jealous. Mine hasn't come back again YET !!! My camera stays in the garage all day just in case.

Mary S. said...

Great photos. Send that bird to my yard this spring -- we've got moles and voles galore.

dAwN said...

How very exciting it must have been to see this! great shots...

John Tittle said...

I haven't been visiting blogs lately. Just stopped by to see what was happening in Northfield. I'm glad I did. Some great photos.

Dan Kahl said...

Thanks Penny for the great report and pictures. I would guess it's the same shrike we saw on the Christmas bird count. No sign here of the northern shrike I saw in the middle of December or of the Carolina wren, but I did hear and see an Eastern Bluebird early last week.

Dan Kahl

Larry said...

Great series of this Northern Shrike Penny! If I'm not mistaken, they kill vertebrates like this by severing the spinal cord at the back of the neck. That looks like what this bird is doing in the first photo.

Penelope said...

Dan K. - A bluebird! Do you think it just stayed, or is it a very early returnee?

Larry - yes, I think that's exactly what it's doing. You can feel the power of its lunge -- quite something!

Thanks for the nice words, everyone. I could hardly believe what was unfolding in front of our eyes, maybe just a dozen feet away from the car, and I feel so lucky I was able to get some decent shots. I would have loved to get a shot of the bird carrying the rodent away across the field.

Lana Gramlich said...

Wow...great captures!