Tag Archives: Colorado Outdoors Magazine

What to See Now: Shrikes

YOTB_stacked_KIn celebration of the Year of the Bird, we will highlight some of the birds and their behaviors that you can observe at certain times throughout the year.

 

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A pair of loggerhead shrikes from the Pawnee National Grasslands. All photos by © Wayne D. Lewis/CPW.

Driving down County Road 57 on the edge of the Pawnee National Grasslands, I saw a flurry of avian activity on a barbed-wire fence just ahead. I pulled over to see three of the four birds had moved off a bit, leaving one little bird sitting alone. Well, “sitting” isn’t quite right, because its legs were sticking out at odd angles. “Resting” isn’t correct either, because there wasn’t much peaceful about the scene. The small brownish bird was “stuck.” I edged my truck a few feet ahead to try and get a better idea what species I was looking at, but that didn’t help. It’s hard to identify a bird when it is missing its head.

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This small bird had fallen prey to a group of loggerhead shrikes.

It wasn’t really a mystery at all as to who was responsible: Three black-masked culprits impatiently waited nearby — two just one fence section down and another above on a powerline. They had clearly ignored the posted “no hunting” sign. I waited a few minutes, hoping they would return to the scene of the crime so my camera could catch them doing other naughty stuff, but they all flew off, apparently not wanting to be seen with the victim. I put my truck in drive and headed about 1,000 yards ahead before making a U-turn to sneak back and snap some damning photographic evidence, but I was too late. In that short time, the butchers had spirited the victim away.

While the identity of the victim will never be known, the perpetrators were instantly identified as shrikes. Shrikes are gray, black and white, robin-sized songbirds. I picture songbirds as cheerful, friendly, Disney-like birds — and maybe shrikes are, too, when they aren’t impaling grasshoppers, lizards, mice and small birds (sometimes when the prey is still alive) on thorns, spines and the barbs of barbed wire. Birds as big as meadowlarks and robins fall prey to shrikes, and even the occasional bat is eaten. Since shrikes lack talons like those of raptors, they stun or kill their prey with rapid blows from their poweful, hawk-like beaks and they will kill vertebrates by biting through their necks. Their impaled victims may be consumed right away or cached for later consumption. The cache also marks their territories and helps in attracting mates. Thus, butcher birds, one of the shrike’s nicknames, is a very accurate and appropriate description. They are also called thornbirds (they use thorns in hunting and also nest in thorny shrubs and trees) and blockheads (because many think their heads are too big for their bodies).

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Loggerhead shrikes search for their prey from vantage points such as trees and power lines.

Although I could easily ID the butchers, figuring out the type of shrike was harder. There are only two shrike species in North America and both can be found in our state. Colorado is home to northern shrikes, as well as their close relatives, loggerhead shrikes. Northern shrikes breed in Alaska and Canada, and their range dips down into northern Colorado. Loggerhead shrikes will nest in Colorado and can be found year-round in southern parts of the state. The Pawnee National Grasslands on the Eastern Plains is one of the areas where their ranges overlap. I reached out to Bruce Gill, an author and former biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and had him review my photos. “My guess is they are all loggerhead shrikes,” said Gill. “Northerns winter here, but don’t breed here. The ones in which the black does not extend across the bill are young of the year that have not yet developed adult plumage. Northerns breed far north along the Arctic Circle and Alaska.”

Gill, in his article “Butcher Bird” from the March/April 2013 issue of Colorado Outdoors magazine wrote: “Aside from contrasting distributions, several subtle physical characteristics distinguish adult loggerheads from northerns. At first glance, they look very much alike. But careful inspection reveals that northerns are slightly larger. The breast feathers of northerns are crisscrossed with very fine, wavy, contrasting dark lines. Breasts of adult loggerheads are mostly gray, lacking wavy lines.

“The black facemask of the loggerhead is broader than the northern’s and runs completely across the base of the beak whereas the narrower mask of the northern ends at the base of the beak. The hook on the upper mandible of the northern is also slightly longer than that of the loggerhead, but this characteristic is difficult to judge without side-by-side comparisons.

“Perhaps the most useful field-distinguishing characteristic from a distance is behavioral. The northern shrike has a habit of raising and lowering it’s long tail when perched, a gesture rarely used by the loggerhead.”

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Loggerhead shrike with the remains of a grasshopper. The author watched this bird remove the grasshopper’s legs and wings before swallowing it.

After some review, I determined that the culprits were loggerhead shrikes. However, the beauty of writing for blogs is that if I am proven wrong, I can quickly change the words on the screen.

“I’m not bad, I was born this way,” kept popping in my head as I thought about the scene I had witnessed. Bluebirds are often thought of as signs that happiness is on its way — unless you’re a cricket in its sights. Robins are welcome signs of spring — unless you’re a worm. Heck, even the little headless bird had been a very effective predator up until its untimely end. Don’t think of shrikes as avian Vlad the Impalers. Instead, think of them as the kindly butcher on the corner, just going about their business and providing for their families.

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKES


Wayne D. Lewis is the editor and art director of Colorado Outdoors magazine.

Video: Life of a Professional Wildlife Photographer

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Have you ever wondered what it takes to capture those amazing wildlife photographs seen in Colorado Outdoors?

In this video, Colorado photographer Vic Schendel offers an intimate look into the world of professional wildlife photography.  Schendel, a frequent contributor to Colorado Outdoors magazine, shares stories behind some of his favorite photographs, offers simple tips for shooting better images and explains the inspiration that drives his life’s work. Big-game hunters will appreciate Schendel’s exceptional images of elk, bighorn sheep, deer and moose.

 


Video and blog post by Jerry Neal. Neal is the senior video producer and information specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

2017 Fishing Guide Available Now!

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The 2017 Colorado Outdoors Fishing Guide is now available! With more that 9,000 miles of rivers and some 2000 lakes and reservoirs, Colorado is truly an angler’s paradise. Get the most out of your time on the water this year by purchasing the 2017 Colorado Outdoors Fishing Guide.

Learn techniques for catching mountain whitefish. Discover the monumental fly fishing opportunities of Fossil Ridge Wilderness Area. Read about catching South Park’s trophy northern pike and see a complete guide to fishing Denver metro waters. You’ll find all this and more in the 2017 Fishing Guide. Get your copy today
 
The 2017 Fishing Guide is a special edition of Colorado Outdoors magazine. You can receive it free with an annual subscription!

Colorado Outdoors March/April 2017 Issue Available Now!

 

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Have you seen the March/April 2017 issue of Colorado Outdoors? In this issue you’ll read about fishing the Yampa River, learn how to fish the many backcountry lakes in the Rio Grande National Forest and discover how donating your tax refund can help support endangered and nongame wildlife.

Pick up your copy or subscribe today! Click HERE to see a full contents page and to order back issues of Colorado Outdoors magazine.

Fishing, Fisher and Fall Colors at Urad Lake

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Urad Lake. Photo by © Wayne D. Lewis/CPW.

If you are looking to either fish, hike, see the aspens change, wildlife watch or all of the above, you can do far worse than a trip to Urad Lake.

Urad Lake is in the Urad Lake State Wildlife Area, the newest SWA in Colorado. Located off of Jones Pass and Berthoud Pass in Clear Creek County, it is the result of a cooperative effort between the Climax Molybdenum Company (Henderson Mine), the City of Golden and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).

The property was historically open to the public for several decades, even though privately owned by the mine.  In 2011, the property closed to the public as Henderson Mine did a massive, multimillion dollar mitigation project in the Woods Creek Valley.

During the closure, the mine, City of Golden (which owns the water and reservoir) and CPW were able to work out a long-term lease to turn over the management of the property to Colorado Parks and Wildlife which reopened the area in 2014. During that time, CPW stocked the lake with 6,000 10- to 12-inch cutbow trout. The lake is full of small brook trout, recently stocked rainbow trout and plenty of the cutbows. Read more

Colorado Outdoors July/August 2016 Issue Available Now!

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Have you seen the July/August 2016 issue of Colorado Outdoors? In this issue you’ll read about fishing in the Weminuche Wilderness, learn how conservation programs help Colorado’s fish and wildlife populations thrive, read about a unique program using prison inmates that benefits wildlife and discover the new Gold Medal section of the Colorado River.

Pick up your copy or subscribe today! Click HERE to see a full contents page and to order back issues of Colorado Outdoors magazine.

2016 Fishing Guide Available Now!

2016 Fishing Guide cover
The 2016 Colorado Outdoors Fishing Guide is now available!

With more that 9,000 miles of rivers and some 2000 lakes and reservoirs, Colorado is truly an angler’s paradise. Get the most out of your time on the water this year by purchasing the 2016 Colorado Outdoors Fishing Guide

Learn alternative lake trout trolling techniques. Discover the monumental fishing opportunities of Pueblo Reservoir and Browns Canyon. Read about the simplicity of Tenkara, a minimalist form of fly fishing from Japan. And see how the Cache La Poudre Fishway benefits sport and native fish. You’ll find all this and more in the 2016 Fishing Guide. Get your copy today
 
The 2016 Fishing Guide is a special edition of Colorado Outdoors magazine. You can receive it free with an annual subscription!

May/June Issue of Colorado Outdoors Available Now!

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The May/June 2016 issue of Colorado Outdoors is now available. Discover the wizardry of European nymphing, read how biologists working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife use a variety of high-tech tools to manage wildlife and learn how a group of hunters became poachers by agreeing to party hunt. You’ll find all these stories and more in the May/June 2016 issue. Get your copy today by clicking HERE!

2016 Colorado Outdoors ‘Preference Point’ Issue Available Now

2016-Jan-Feb-coverIf you’re a Colorado big-game hunter, now’s the time to prepare for the 2016 fall hunting seasons. Many of Colorado’s big-game licenses are allocated through a limited drawing based on a preference-point system. Colorado Outdoors magazine is a must-have resource if you’re planning on participating in this year’s drawing. The Jan/Feb issue features preference-point data and statewide big-game population estimates to help guide you in applying for a limited big-game license. Don’t miss out on your opportunity to experience the thrill and adventure of a Colorado big-game hunt this season. The application deadline for the 2016 limited-license drawing is April 5.  To order the 2016 “Preference Point” issue or to purchase an annual subscription to Colorado Outdoors, please click HERE.

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