Take Time to Visit the Butcher Watchman

Here’s a bird worth seeing.  The butcher bird, lacking talons to kill it’s own prey, uses it’s own powerful beak to kill it’s prey, then drags them to thorns, barbed wire, or other pointed objects to store his or her food for later.  These butcher trees can be found as proof of the bird’s hangout locations.

noshrike
Northern Shrike in the Dunes. Photo by Dr. Ken Brock.

Who is this butcher bird of the dunes.  They’re called shrikes, and right now is a perfect time to go visit the shrike.  Here for the winter, it’s a easy bird to view, since it requires no long hikes, no brutal lakefront winds, and can be seen from the comfort of your own vehicle… if you can find him!  Each winter, a contingent of Northern Shrike leave their summering grounds on the scrubby conifer forestland near the arctic tundra.  Here, they find their own “Florida” to tough out the winter.  In Indiana, the bird is far more common in the northern part of the state, and nearly half of the state records come from the Indiana Dunes (NW Indiana) area.

Northern Shrike perched high in Beverly Shores 2012.  Photo by Pete Grube.
Northern Shrike perched high in Beverly Shores 2012. Photo by Pete Grube.

Come November, shrikes migrate into the area and can be seen in open wetlands, field edges, and near wooded swamps.  Here they’ll perch up high in search of mice or small birds.  They can be seen on minute, then gone the next; hidden among the lower brush or shrubs.  Sometimes it takes a few visits to find a shrike.  One of the best areas to find a shrike is the interdunal swamps of Beverly Shores.  Beverly Drive is often called “shrike alley” from mid November through February.  During a typical winter, several birds can usually be found along this stretch.  The map below shows some of the recent sighting areas (gold stars), as well as some other typical locations they have been seen (blue stars).

Northern Shrike Sightings in Beverly Shores.
Northern Shrike Sightings in Beverly Shores.

Mineral Springs Road, at Cowle’s Bog is another location to look for shrike.  A real exciting location to find one is at an occasional bird feeder!  The Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center feeders hosted a bird last winter that on several occasions took dive at some of the feeder birds.  The event was seen by many birders.  Check them out this late fall and early winter if you get a chance.

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