Birders counted a single loggerhead shrike on both the Southern Lake Norman Christmas Bird Count and Charlotte Count recently.
The Lake Norman bird was the first to be counted in three years, though just as recently as 10 years ago, double-digit numbers were found. Double-digit numbers used to be found on the Charlotte count too, but recent numbers have been limited to one or two individuals.
I am afraid that the days of finding numbers of shrikes in Mecklenburg County are gone for good. While we are well within the nesting and wintering ranges for this species, it has all but disappeared from our landscape. The birds can still be found with a diligent search in most adjacent counties in rural areas, especially to our south and east. In the northeastern United States and mid-Atlantic, loggerhead shrike numbers have plummeted over the last several decades.
It seems the decline is extending into North Carolina. Several reasons for the decline have been suggested including habitat loss and pesticides. I have long thought an additional factor may be in play too; collisions with vehicles.
Shrikes are predatory songbirds. In the photo, notice the strongly hooked bill like that of a hawk. Loggerhead shrikes feed mainly on large insects like grasshoppers, but are ready, willing, and able to take much larger, warm-blooded prey like smaller birds and even mice, quite a feat for a bird about the size of a cardinal.
Like many raptors, shrikes sit on a low, exposed perch in open country such as a fence, wire, or small tree. Their pursuing flight is fast and low, making them extremely vulnerable to being hit by vehicles when they cross roadways.
Many species of hawks and owls employ the same low trajectory when homing in on prey, and judging by the numbers of dead raptors I see along the interstates, it’s a losing strategy.
There is still appropriate habitat in Mecklenburg County around the airport, the larger Nature Preserves, and rural areas. I hope this fascinating species can continue to be a part of the county’s fauna for some years to come.
Taylor Piephoff is a local naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.
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