Shrike, the impaler

My brother-in-law wondered why there were bumblebees stuck on the barbed wire surrounding a portion of the San Jose NASA Ames facility where he works, so he sent me a couple of photos of them.

bumblebee impaled on barbed wire by shrikes

That’s not a random clump of fur stuck on the barbed wire six feet up in the air.

bumblebees impaled on barbed wire by shrikes

It’s a large bumblebee purposefully impaled on the barbed wire.

I knew immediately what had caused the bee to get stuck there — it was an appetizer snack put there by one of the local Loggerhead Shrikes, a feisty little gray and black bird sometimes known as the Butcher Bird.


A bad photo I took of a Loggerhead Shrike posing while surveying the landscape for his next meal.  Their definitive black mask and dark gray head and back make them easy to ID.

Shrikes could be thought of as tiny raptors, except for the fact that they have delicate perching toes instead of grasping talons.  Strong beaks enable them to snare their prey and powerful wing muscles help them carry it aloft where they then nimbly attach it to a sharp projection, like a thorn, or a broken stub of a twig, or in this case, the barbs of a barbed-wire fence.  The sharp projection holds the prey in place while it is consumed, making up for the lack of talons and strong, grasping toes.  Sometimes they are so successful in hunting, they leave a string of carcasses hanging, to be consumed later.

Almost nothing escapes their attention as potential prey: from crickets and bumblebees, to frogs, lizards, small mice, even other birds.  If they can carry it, they can stash it on something sharp.  The video below by Angie Li captures some of this behavior and illustrates the wide variety of food choices shrikes make. (The narration is interesting but is somewhat redundant and sounds like it is computer generated.)

10 thoughts on “Shrike, the impaler

  1. The first bee I saw on the fence, I thought wow what an unlucky bee. The second one I thought man there must be a lot of bees around here to keep running into the barbed wire. The third bee I said, oh AMES bees are stupid, but Sue soon straightened me out.

  2. The first time I saw a shrike it was flying past me carrying a goldfinch! I couldn’t get my camera up fast enough to get a shot. They are amazing little carnivores.

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