Image: J.M.Garg

This cute little bird has a dark and deadly secret.

Commonly referred to as “butcher birds,” shrikes are passerine (perching) birds found throughout portions of Eurasia and Africa. While hunting insects and small vertebrates, they often impale their prey on thorns, barbed-wire fences, and any other available sharp objects — hence, the name.

While this might seem like cruel and unusual punishment, the shrike’s grim feeding strategy is rather efficient. Impaling its prey on stakes allows it to tear off bite-sized portions of flesh and save the rest for later.

Shrikes or “butcher birds” often impale small prey, like this frog, on twigs to save for later. Image: coniferconifer/ Flickr

Some species, such as the great grey shrike, even use this method to render toxic prey harmless. These shrikes will impale foul-tasting or poisonous grasshoppers on spikes for a few days until they lose their toxicity. Amazingly, the birds also peel off the skin from the backs of toads and pull it over the toad’s head to avoid contaminating the meat with the toad’s noxious skin secretions.

Shrikes are impressive hunters, too. Great grey shrikes often survey their terrain while perched high on tree branches and telephone poles or hovering mid-air. Once they spot their prey, the birds swoop down like a hawk to grab flying insects, birds or ground-based animals. The crafty creatures also mimic the songs of other birds to entice them to come close enough before striking.

A great grey shrike with a striped field mouse impaled on a tree branch. Image: Marek Szczepanek/ Wikimedia Commons

This just goes to show that you should never judge a bird by its beady eyes or fluffy feathers.

Watch them in action in the video below: