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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Northern Shrike -- Lanius excubitor


RANGE: Breeds in Alaska, the Yukon, southwestern Mackenzie, and northern parts of Manitoba, Quebec, and Labrador. Winters from southern Alaska and the southern half of Canada south to northern California, central Nevada, northern Arizona, northern New Mexico, Kansas, northern Missouri, central Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

STATUS: Locally common in summer range; uncommon in winter.

HABITAT: Inhabits a broad belt of coniferous forest or taiga across Canada and Alaska during summer; strongly prefers forest edges, open willow brush, and brush-bordered swamps and bogs. Prefers semi-open country with short grasses and scattered trees or shrubs during winter.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Elevated perches, short vegetation.

NEST: Builds a bulky, loose nest of twigs, in spruces, willows, or bushes, 5 to 20 feet above the ground.

FOOD: Attacks prey from an elevated perch by hawking or hovering, then diving and pouncing. Mostly eats small birds and mammals; also eats insects (especially grasshoppers and crickets), and some snakes, lizards, and frogs.

REFERENCES: Bent 1950, DeGraff et al. 1980, Eckert in Farrand 1983c, Miller 1931, Terres 1980.


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