Sunday, January 6, 2013
Lunch for a Northern Shrike
This Sunday I got the park a little later around 10:30 in the morning. It was another sunny day with clear blue sky overhead but a heck of a lot colder than yesterday -only around 19º I think. For whatever reason I decided to hike counter-clockwise around the park today. As I came up to the northeast corner of the park I was looking at all the footprints of people who walked on the frozen ditch towards the middle of the park. This is the same ditch that was recently dredged out last fall and now it looks nearly like a well traveled road. I figured what the heck and set off on it as well. Only minutes later I thought I saw a chunk of snow hanging out near the edge of a tree and then realized it was a Northern Shrike. He quickly flew off back into some much thicker trees and through my binoculars I noticed him pulling at something brightly red colored.
It was indeed his most recent catch - another mouse! For all the years I've been seeing Shrikes at Palmer Lake Park, I've never once seen them with a catch until just recently. Today however marks the third time I've seen one with a mouse in just one short week! I wanted to know just exactly how they eat one, if they use their feet to hold the mouse while pulling at it or what. I kept trying to get closer but every time I did, the Shrike would fly off to another perch, carrying it's prey with him. I probably should have observed a bit more with my binoculars but since seeing one with it's prey for the first time only a week ago, I'm wanting badly to a get a good photo of this. So I stalked him back and forth from tree to tree while he used the time in between to pick at the mouse. Though I never did get quite as close as I would have liked, from what I can tell, the Shrike never touched the mouse with his feet at all. Instead he seemed to hook or wrap the mouse around a twig to create leverage so he could then pull it apart with his hooked beak. By this time he was making quick work of the mouse and when he turned it a certain way it looked like maybe he'd eaten it's head off first! This second photo is probably the most graphic perspective I got. At one point I could see him appear to tip his head back as he swallowed little chunks of the mouse. Ever since learning about Shrikes, this is what I've always wanted to witness and today I got quite the show. I suppose that they have been taking advantage of all the rodents running out through their runways in the snow just like I've been seeing myself lately. I'm sure this Shrike was annoyed at me, bumping him out from tree to tree as he attempted to enjoy his lunch. He was certainly intent on eating it now as he took it with him every time he moved. Eventually I lost sight of him when he moved to another section of thick branches and by now I knew I'd never get any closer than I had already gotten. I would have like to see if he ate the feet and tail or not.