Thursday, April 21, 2011

Butcher Birds

Reading through “Cacti, Agaves, and Yuccas of California and Nevada” I came up on this:

“Loggerhead shrikes have a unique use for cactus spines: they employ them as lethal weapons. These so-called “butcher birds: catch large insects, small birds, and lizards and impale them on a nearby thorn, cactus spine, or Joshua tree leaf, returning later to feed.”

Had you heard about this? Just look at this sweet little bird… It hardly looks capable of such atrocities. (photo from Wikipedia)

Why, you might wonder, was I reading about the Cacti, Agaves, and Yuccas of California and Nevada? Well because I read anything I can find about these plants…and we’re planning a trip! This fall we’ll be making the colossal road trip from Oregon to New Mexico and Arizona to visit family. Stopping along the way to see the sights and of course this will include anything related to my favorite plants. So if you know of any must sees (nurseries, gardens) in Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona I would love to hear about them! Our specific route is still in the planning stages so it can be planned to take in all the best sites!


  1. You need one of these birds in the danger garden. She'd fit right in. :)

  2. wow, I did a quick image search after reading this and look what came up:

  3. What a cute little bird..who would have known?

    I hope you enjoy your trip and take lots of pictures.

  4. We have fiscal shrikes, with the same habit of impaling their dinner on an available thorn. Glad I haven't actually seen this, just reading about it is creepy enough!

  5. Have a great trip, I know you will.

  6. "Nature, red in tooth and claw." And it's happening right in your in-law's back garden, hmm? Sounds like you have a fun trip planned!

  7. Yes, I've heard of shrikes and seen evidence of impaling of prey (a bee) on a cactus at San Antonio Botanical Garden:

    Rock Rose has blogged about the Wallace Desert Garden ( ) & Desert Botanical Garden ( ) in Phoenix.

    And I suggest seeing if you can meet author/designer Scott Calhoun or see some of his gardens in Tucson: He runs a B&B too!

  8. I have to agree; they do seem remarkably suited to your garden!

    I remember them from my grandmother's farm in Virginia. They sat at the top of the isolated Virginia Pines that were allowed here and there in pastures. Occasionally we would see small birds, often indigo buntings or goldfinches, hung from the barbed wire fences. Ii seemed like a horrible waste but hey...

    Haven't seen a shrike for years and years. I wonder how they're doing as a population.

  9. How fun! Your trip and not the impaling. I don't really like any thought possibly related to blood or blood loss. I can only guess that you would be fascinated by the "danger" involved.

  10. Wow, sort of like one of those Medieval dinner show events often talked about in Myrtle Beach, SC but with cute barbaric birds instead of men with jostling sticks.

  11. The shrike kind of reminds me of the mass murdering maniacs described by neighbors as quiet, unassuming fellows.
    I think if I were heading in that direction, I would try to swing through Prescott, AZ, where the "Billy Jack" movies were filmed (worth seeing just for the scenery).
    Love when you go on vacation, because it means lots of fun posts ahead.

  12. Grace, oh yes! Well at least all of the thorns might get some use. To be honest this behavior kind of gives me the creeps!

    Mary C, ew! Is right! Thanks for finding was an interesting things to read.

    ZZ, thanks and I will definitely be taking pictures!!!

    E Eye, I agree. I would have to come to the defence of the poor thing being impaled!

    Nicole, thanks! Lots of driving but hopefully with plenty of stops.

    MulchMaid, ah! I'll have to ask them if they've ever seen it in action.

    Pam, great photo! And that's pretty great that you noticed the bee after the fact. The picture of the flock of sparrows noshing on grass seeds in that same post is pretty great too. Thanks for the recommendations. I haven't heard of the Wallace Desert Garden I'll look in to that and nothing could keep me away from the Desert Botanical Garden, it is heaven on earth. I've been twice but not since I started blogging.

    Chris, great (morbid) story. I'll have to ask the husband about the population, seems like something he would know about, especially since he already knew about the Shrikes when I mentioned it.

    Bom, I can't wait! Well, actually I can because that is in the fall which means summer will be over and I've got lots of fun to have between now and then!

    compost, that's a new one for me...I think I'll have to look into that!

    ricki, I just put Billy Jack in our queue. I remember seeing it as a kid when my parents watched it and thinking "he's cool!" it would be fun to see now! I have been to Prescott with my brother years ago (when we were still both single) when we went to the Grand Canyon. It was beautiful! I think we might try and swing through on the way home.

  13. Well I suppose you've seen my Southwest trip reports:

    I'd suggest not missing The Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum and B&B Cactus Nursery above everything else. Beyond that I could probably suggest about 50 more things, and if there's anything specific you're wondering where to find, give me a shout. Sounds like an exciting trip!


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