Shrike country is open country. Shrike country has peripheral perches, scrubby habitat, and lots of prey items. For as long as I've been visiting Pheasant Branch Conservancy, a Northern Shrike has claimed its snowy prairies throughout the winter months. Occasionally there's been more than one shrike. Even though I've observed a shrike there just once so far this winter, I enjoy the thought that it's there, perhaps perched atop a skinny branch protruding from the dogwood or willow thickets, intensely surveying its territory. I can also picture it hovering over the field and calling as it searches for a meal.
I know it isn't the same shrike that's been visiting, because there's been a mix of adults and juveniles over the years. But I think this speaks to the suitability of this particular habitat for shrikes. If there have been repeat visits by a particular bird, its sort of fun to imagine the prairie belonging to it. (Or do shrikes belong to the prairie?) I'm unsure what the lifespan is for these sojourners from the north, but I would assume it's longer than your typical songbird.
I was astonished and shocked to discover that Northern Shrikes were once shot in Boston Common to protect newly introduced English Sparrows. Such a fact causes me to ponder how future environmentalists will view our present conservation efforts decades from now. Might we be viewed as misguided as that?
Hark - hark - from out the thickest fog
Warbles with might and main
The fearless shrike, as all agog
To find in fog his gain.
Hi steady sail he never furls
At any time o'year,
And perched now on winter's curls,
He whistles in his ear.
- Henry David Thoreau
All images © 2010 Mike McDowell