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Northern Shrike - BirdForum Opus

L. b. borealis, probably male
Photo by revs45
Iona Beach, Richmond, British Columbia, Canada, March 2011
Lanius borealis


L. b. borealis, probably female
Photo by GaryT
Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, USA, March 2009

Length 22-26 cm (8½-10¼ in), weight 50-80 g

  • Grey head and back
  • Black mask on face extending to base of bill, but not over top of bill
  • Distinctive stout, hooked black bill
  • White belly, throat, flanks and chest (flanks often faintly barred pale grey in females)
  • Black wings with white patch at base of primaries
  • Medium-long tail, black with white outer feathers


  • More strongly barred brown below and with a brownish wash; mask indistinct brownish
  • Base of bill paler

Similar species

Compare Loggerhead Shrike in North America, and Chinese Grey Shrike in northeastern Asia.


L. b. borealis, juvenile
Photo by eastwood
Brunswick Point, Delta, British Columbia, Canada, December 2006

Northern North America and northeastern Asia.


Complex, and potentially liable to further revision[2]. Was formerly considered conspecific with Great Grey Shrike, and some Asian populations may be split or possibly even returned to Great Grey Shike[2].


This is a polytypic species currently treated as consisting of five subspecies[1] in two groups, which may represent separate species.
American Group (Northern Shrike)

Asian Group

  • L. b. sibiricus: Eastern Siberia to northern Mongolia and Kamchatka Peninsula
  • L. b. bianchii: Sakhalin and southern Kuril Islands (northern Japan)
  • L. b. mollis: Russian Altai and north-western Mongolia
  • L. b. funereus: Western China (Tien Shan Mountains)

An additional subspecies L. b. invictus was sometimes recognised for the populations in the western half of North America, but is not now considered distinct.

L. b. mollis is distinct in the adult plumage resembling the juvenile plumage of the other subspecies, with fine barring on the underparts at all ages.


Open upland forests and bogs with scattered trees. In winter, heathland, and sometimes farmland.



Diet includes large insects, small mammals and birds and it often stores uneaten prey by impaling it on thorns. They commonly hunt from a very high perch usually a tall tree top.



Often mimics the calls and songs of other birds such as Blue Jays, Gray Catbirds, American Robins, and Song Sparrows.


An assortment of harsh nasal sounds.


  1. Gill, F. and Donsker, D. (Eds). 2017. IOC World Bird Names (version 7.3). Available at http://www.worldbirdnames.org/.
  2. Olsson, U. et al. (2009). The Lanius excubitor (Aves, Passeriformes) conundrum — Taxonomic dilemma when molecular and non-molecular data tell different stories. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 55: 347–357.

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