Loggerhead Shrikes and a few things that bug them

Loggerhead Shrike with its eyes closedLoggerhead Shrike with its eyes closed

I over slept this morning which is why I didn’t have a post published earlier but I wanted to go shooting because the skies were fairly clear. So I am late today.

This morning while I was on Antelope Island there was a Loggerhead Shrike perched on a dead branch that was near the north shoreline of the Great Salt Lake. There were thousands of Midges in the area, some in front of the shrike, some behind and some very close to the bird. This shrike kept closing its eyes and I wonder if that was because the midges were bothering it.

Warning: Cruddy images ahead but informative ones!

Loggerhead Shrike surrounded by MidgesLoggerhead Shrike surrounded by Midges

This photo shows the midges all around the Loggerhead Shrike. We call them “bugnados” because the midges seem to form funnels of flying bugs. These midges do NOT bite but they do tickle if they land on you. When there are thousands of them you can hear a slight hum but it is nothing like hearing that one annoying mosquito that won’t stop buzzing your head when you are trying to fall asleep.

One adult Loggerhead Shrike bringing in prey to anotherOne adult Loggerhead Shrike bringing in prey to another

All of a sudden I saw another Loggerhead Shrike fly in with prey in its bill and it passed it off to the other shrike. It is difficult to tell what the prey is exactly, it might be the pupae of something or it might be a moth with its wings torn off. The shrike that took the prey dove down into the bush so I suspect that these two adults are feeding fledglings.

The Loggerhead Shrike on the right is banded and it was probably banded last year by a group of researchers from Great Salt Lake Institute (GSLI) out of Westminster College who have been banding shrikes and other birds that eat the spiders on the island to study mercury uptake levels.

A pair of Loggerhead Shrikes in a cloud of MidgesLoggerhead Shrikes in a cloud of Midges

Here is an image of both adult Loggerhead Shrikes that shows more of the cloud of midges that surrounded them. I suspect that the midges are not prey for the shrikes because they are so small compared to other prey that shrikes take.

A swarm of MidgesA swarm of Midges

I tried several times to get images of the flying midges with the majority of them in focus and this photo does that fairly well. Midges are prey for shorebirds, song birds and some grebes and we sure have plenty of midges along the Great Salt Lake and the marshes that surround it.

Just another wonderful day in my neighborhood!

Mia

All images were taken with my Nikon D300 with the Nikkor 200-400mm VR and 1.4x TC attached.

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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.

26 Comments

  1. No wonder you have so many awesome birds to photograph. Look at all the bugs! I really like that shot of the shrikes trading off prey!

  2. Hi Mia,

    I think this might be my first comment here, but I’ve been enjoying your stuff for quite some time now. Thank you for all the effort and time it must take to share with all of us.

    I’d probably need to see a more detailed image to be certain, but the prey being transferred immediately struck me as looking a lot like a buprestid — that is to say, a member of the Metallic Wood-boring Beetle family. If I’m not just imagining things, then the head would be facing toward the camera and the legs are probably just pulled in as a defense mechanism. Here’s an example of what they can look like so you have a mental image:
    http://bugguide.net/node/view/526979/bgpage

    Of course, I could easily see it being a moth with the wings pulled off, as you suggested. Just thought I’d throw it out there. :)

    • Hi Harsi, thank you for commenting and giving your thoughts on what the prey is that the Loggerhead Shrike is passing to the other shrike. I can see what you mean about the Metallic Wood-boring Beetle looking like the prey but there are only Sagebrush and Rabbitbrush on that area of the island, any trees are several miles away. Do these beetles Sagebrush has very few pest because of the volatile oils they contain and the Rabbitbrush has very little woody material to it.

      I wish I would have had about 200mm more reach than I did when I took the image.

      • Hi, Mia. Thanks for the response. Once again, the historic common names attached to arthropod families leads to unintentional misunderstandings. The family is named for the wood-boring proclivities of some of these beetles’ larva… but not all! Many species’ larvae mine their way through both herbaceous and woody plants, including grasses. I’m fairly certain that the adult beetles often feed on pollen.

        I was aware of how unique the vegetation on Antelope Island was, so I did a bit of homework before writing my comment to be sure it was plausible. This species doesn’t look like a match for what you photographed, but here’s a few images of some buprestids photographed on Antelope Island. (Can’t tell for sure, but it looks like they might actually be on Rabbitbrush.)

        http://bugguide.net/node/view/321334
        http://bugguide.net/node/view/211615

  3. humming bird lover

    Hi! Super photo’s today! Love seeing your work! Have a great day!

  4. Grace Dunklee Cohen

    This is a wonderful and informative series, Mia. The image of shrikes passing the prey is spectacular. Sometimes I guess it pays to oversleep … everything happens just the way it should.

    As a photographer, I look forward to, learn from, and thoroughly ENJOY your daily postings, Mia. Thank you!

  5. Wonderful is right! Great photos, Mia!!

  6. Could you read any numbers on that banded LOSH Mia?

  7. Excellent set of photos and narrative. very informative.

  8. Patty Chadwick

    Fascinating images!!! Those midges are as thick as soup….they must torment the eyes and ears of anything in their “cloud”…easy to catch, tough, and nourishing. Great shooting!!!

  9. Great photos Mia. My new Sibley guide says: “Uncommon and declining in open pastures and prairies with scattered bushes, hedgerows, and trees. Solitary. Feeds on grasshoppers and other insects, small birds, and rodents.”

  10. Carroll Tarvin

    Well, I enjoyed the pictures very much, but will have to dock you some pay for being tardy. Great photos, Thanks.

  11. Love that food transfer. And suspect that the cloud of midges would bug me to the max. Glad that they are non biters or whiners though.

  12. Oh my! Fantastic pictures!!!

  13. Wonderful photos! Especially the transfer of prey!

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