How do Shrikes Get Their Name? – William Turner, in a Short and “Succint History of Birds” in 1544, called the red-backed shrike “a nyn murder” because the bird was believed to murder and collect nine victims a day. Its German name was Nuen- m’order, now Neuntöter. The name “shrike” comes from “shriek,” describing the bird’s alarm call, although these birds also sing sweetly and can mimic other birds.
Shrikes are the only passerines that prey on vertebrate animals, often impaling the carcasses on thorns to store for future use. This habit gave them the family name Laniidae, from the Latin lanius, “a butcher.” They are sometimes called butcher birds in English. The common French name for the red-backed shrike was once l’ecorcheur, or “flayer,” from the bird’s habit of tearing apart or skinning small mammals before eating them.
The two shrikes found in North America are the loggerhead shrike, Lanius ludovicianus (“from Louisiana”), and the northern shrike, L. excubitor. The loggerhead shrike gets its common name quills. Quill pens, however, are still the preferred tools of some artists, and they are made only from certain feathers of certain large birds, including swans, geese, and crows (but not secretary birds).
The secretary bird is the only member of its family, Sagittari- idae, because although it is similar to several other birds, it doesn’t fit into any of their families: It flies and soars as well as an eagle; it is over three feet tall and runs like an ostrich; it nests like a stork; some of its faces are bare, like a vulture’s. It partly digests and regurgitates food for its young, and it’s a raptor.
The secretary bird has short stubby toes, which it can’t use to carry prey but with which it literally stomps its victims to death. It has such a powerful kick that it can shatter a turtle’s shell, and it kills snakes by kicking or dropping them from a height. Its scientific name, Sagittarius serpentarius, means “a bowman hunting snakes,” and the bird’s head plumes are also like arrows sticking out of a quiver. Most bowhunters, though, would hunt more sportingly!