By posting this photo, I’m cheating a bit because this bird is perched on a fence in the neighboring Berkeley Meadow (aka Sylvia McLaughlin Eastshore State Park) and not in Cesar Chavez Park. However, birds fly, and expert birder Teale Friscoe had spotted this bird in Chavez Park in September (according to eBird), so it seems fair to include it in the Chavez Park bird assembly. This photo is by Sam Zuckerman, who modestly notes that birder John Kenny saw it first and others followed. Sam is new to these blog pages but not to birding or the Berkeley Marina. He describes himself as “Former SF Chronicle writer, long-time Berkeley resident and birder, and frequent visitor to Meadow and nearby waterfront, where I stalk the birds and dodge the dogs.”
The Loggerhead Shrike is a rare sight in these parts. Their numbers have been in steep decline nationally and in Canada, for reasons that are not completely understood. They are interesting birds, described as “a songbird with a raptor’s habits.” They’re carnivores who prey on anything from tiny bugs to birds and mammals their own size or bigger. They hunt during daylight. They don’t have the vise-grip talons of the hawks and similar predators. They make up for that with a powerful beak and heavy neck muscles that allow them to seize prey by the nape and twist violently, snapping the victim’s spine. They also have unique “tomial teeth” that penetrate prey like daggers. They may impale prey on big thorns or wire barbs or wedge it into tight spaces to kill it and save it for eating later. They use this technique to handle poisonous insects and amphibians, letting them sit on a spike for days while the poisons decay, and then eat them. They are capable of hovering, but prefer to sit on a post or wire, saving energy, waiting for prey to reveal itself. They are monogamous. They breed almost as soon as they can fly, but the survival rate of fledglings is very low. Efforts are underway in Canada to breed them in captivity and release them into the wild.