Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

While bird watching along a rural West Virginia road last week I came across this disturbing scene. It was a male red-winged blackbird impaled on a barbed wire fence. I found this to be both fascinating and disturbing.

I've been thinking about this bird ever since. Did it accidentally fly into the fence wire during a territorial chase with another male? Was it being pursued by an accipiter? Or is this perhaps the largest ever recorded victim of a loggerhead shrike?

Shrikes of both North American species often impale their food items on thorns and barbed-wire fences. There are several possible explanations for this. One is that the shrikes' songbird-like feet are too weak to grip the prey item while the hawk-like bill rips it apart. A second theory is that this is a shrike's way of saving the food item for later consumption. Yet another theory holds that males use these impaled prey items as a means of impressing the ladies.

Loggerhead shrikes are extremely rare breeders in West Virginia. As elsewhere they are vanishing from their former breeding range in the state. No one really knows why.

Some friends and I went back to the scene of the crime the following day. The male blackbird was still there—seemingly untouched from the day before. We scanned the surrounding meadows, trees, and fence lines for any sign of a shrike but received no joy from our searching.

This disturbing scene will remain a mystery it seems. And I cannot seem to get it out of my head. Perhaps it was an omen of things to come—good or bad, who knows? I just know I felt sorry for this individual red-winged blackbird. What a way to go...


On May 14, 2008 at 6:20 AM Jayne said...

Wow, so you think then that he accidentally did himself in? What a way to go indeed. Yikes.

On May 14, 2008 at 9:08 AM KatDoc said...

Icky/neat photos. I have a Red-winged Blackbird murder to report on my blog. Stay tuned at for "film at 11."


On May 14, 2008 at 10:06 AM kevbosnafu said...

"another theory holds that males use these impaled prey items as a means of impressing the ladies"

I used to try this with pot roasts and pork loins in college - but it never seemed to work.

Very bizarre scene, Bill.

On May 14, 2008 at 10:24 AM BT3 said...

Kev: Sorry to hear of your travails.
Kat: Will check you out later.
Jayne:I think it was probably an accident.

On May 14, 2008 at 2:48 PM Julie Zickefoose said...

Getting a wing wrapped around the wire close to the body joint is generally the way birds fall afoul of barbed wire. I'd put in a vote for a person, shooting it and then hanging it up as a primitive "warning" to what is considered a pest species by the unenlightened.

On May 14, 2008 at 3:08 PM littleorangeguy said...

A year or so ago you posted a picture of an owl found dead on a sign post -- the kind that are made of metal punched through with holes. That image has never left my brain. Now here's another such image of something we find innocuous, or useful, that is of course neither to a bird. Or if Julie is right, some "person" (I use the quotation marks intentionally) who has decided that the bird is neither useful nor innocuous. They are horrible images, and I wish I hadn't seen them, but I am glad that you insist on showing them.

On May 15, 2008 at 1:34 AM Arlene Ripley said...

What a sad and thought-provoking photo, Bill. I really do hope it was an accident rather than a "killing."

Regarding your Blogger problems -- have you considered trying WordPress? I've never had an upload problem with it. You should be able to import your blog into a WordPress theme.

On May 19, 2008 at 4:18 PM Andy said...

I've seen a row of dead red-winged blackbirds lined up in a row on a telephone wire in the territory of a Loggerhead Shrike in Highland County Ohio a couple of years ago. They all appeared to be juvenile birds.