Shrikes are incredibly fascinating birds. While they may look cute, they are actually quite fierce and use their sharp, hooked bills to catch and tear apart prey.
In North America there are two species of shrikes; the Loggerhead and the Northern. At first glance these two species look remarkably similar, but when taking into account a few ID features, it becomes significantly easier to distinguish one from the other.
One of the first things to keep in mind about these two species is that they each have a different range. The Loggerhead Shrike inhabits most of the southern U.S. and Mexico throughout most of the year. Some of them migrate north during the breeding months and can go as far north as Canada.
As its name suggests, the Northern Shrike spends most of its time in the Northern parts of the continent. They summer in Canada and Alaska, coming down into the lower 48 states during winter.
Due to their ranges, it can be possible to determine which species is most likely based on location, but in many instances both species may be around as their ranges overlap in certain parts of the year.
Bill is one of the physical features that can be used to tell these two species apart with some reliability. Loggerhead Shrikes typically have a completely black bill, while Northern Shrikes typically have lighter colors at the base of the bill. Others have also stated that Northern Shrikes have a larger bill than Loggerhead Shrikes but this may be subjective.
Note the completely dark bill of the Loggerhead shrike above compared to the light lower mandible of the Northern Shrike.
The black mask covering the eyes of these two species is one of the most useful things to look at when trying to discern which species you are looking at. The Loggerhead Shrike has a thick mask that goes from the base of the bill to well past the eye. Northern Shrikes also have a black mask but it is noticeably thinner than that of the Loggerhead. This thin mask of the Northern Shrike shows white above the eye that is either lesser or non existent in Loggerhead Shrikes
Note the thick black mask, clean white underside, and overall darker appearance of the Loggerhead Shrike above compared to the thin mask, barred chest, and overall frostier appearance of the Northern Shrike below.
At first glance these two species may look to have the same colors on their chest, they are actually noticeably different when taking a closer look. The Loggerhead Shrike is known to have a clean white chest and underside with the exception of the juveniles which show more barring. The Northern Shrike however, shows faint gray or brown barring as adults. This barring on the chest can be a key feature to look for in the field when needing to make a quick ID.
The general appearance of the Loggerhead Shrike will be darker with cleaner looking features while the Northern Shrike appears lighter and more frosty
While these two species are certainly very similar in appearance, when taking all of the ID features into account, it becomes significantly easier to make a positive ID.
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