Yellow Blog, Up High in Banana Tree

I love the beautiful world at night.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Addicted to that dying world.

What the hell happened to all the shrikes? I saw them all the time when I was a kid.

Another name for the shrike is the butcher bird. It's a robin-sized songbird with a hawk-like bill and a taste for meat. It captures its prey -- anything from bugs to mice to small birds -- by deception, in part, since it resembles more innocuous birds like mockingbirds and kingbirds. It then impales its kill, trophylike, on sharp thorns and spikes around its territory. (Anybody out there read "Hyperion" by Dan Simmons? Just checking.) It skewers its prey on spikes in order to eat; after all, it doesn't have the talons of a raptor, just regular songbird feet for perching. The males also leave uneaten critter carcasses (and whatever else catches their eye, like pretty ribbons) plainly visible on spines around their territories to impress the ladies.

These birds seem to be disappearing all over the world. Britain has lost nearly all its red-backed shrikes, and New England has lost all its loggerhead shrikes. Japan and Russia are also seeing precipitous declines in their shrike populations.

No one really knows why. Habitat loss? Too many roads? Overuse of pesticides? Introduced species?

Here is a great article about shrike behavior, shrike decline, and attempts to save the shrike:

Before it gets too much warmer, I'm going south to Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge to try to spot a wintering northern shrike. The habitat there is perfect, and that's where I saw my last one (fourteen effin' years ago *sigh*). Wish me luck.

I'll leave you with this little excerpt from Mark Twain's "Diary of Adam and Eve":

"By watching, I know that the stars are not going to last. I have seen some of the best ones melt and run down the sky. Since one can melt, they can all melt; since they can all melt, they can all melt the same night. That sorrow will come--I know it. I mean to sit up every night and look at them as long as I can keep awake; and I will impress those sparkling fields on my memory, so that by and by when they are taken away I can by my fancy restore those lovely myriads to the black sky and make them sparkle again, and double them by the blur of my tears."


  • At 11:42 AM, Anonymous D'nah Freespirit said…

    Oh yes! I've read Hyperion.. and actually didn't know the name was taken from a bird. I wondererd at your missing the Shrike!

    I'd love to tag along on the Nisqually trip, if it coincides with some time off. I haven't been birding with Kate in roughly forever! and.. I drive by the Refuge every time I go to Olympia.

  • At 6:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    When I was reading Hyperion I looked up shrike in the dictionary. Yikes! You can have 'em.

    - tina


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