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The reason why shrikes impale their prey

Loggerhead Shrike at Viera Wetlands, Florida, by Joshua Clark.
Loggerhead Shrike at Viera Wetlands, Florida, by Joshua Clark.

Ever wonder why shrikes impales their prey or wedge it between branches? Jerry Jackson’s article about Loggerhead Shrikes in Florida, a highlight of our August 2014 issue, contains the answer:

Shrikes are a lot like hawks, eagles, and other birds of prey. They habitually hunt vertebrate animals, and their bill is not only hooked but toothed like a falcon’s. But their feet lack a raptor’s heavy talons. They seem better suited to perching than killing.

In fact, a shrike’s weak feet present two challenges to the bird. The first is defending itself, something shrikes accomplish by hovering above dangerous prey, attacking from behind, and biting at the base of the skull.

The second is holding a carcass steady so it can be ripped apart and consumed. Shrikes overcome this challenge in unique fashion: They impale their prey or wedge it between branches.

A version of this article appeared in our August 2014 issue. Subscribe.


Originally Published

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