Like all shrikes, the Northern Shrike is also known as the 'butcher bird' because of its unusual practice of impaling prey on thorns or barbed wire, much in the way butchers hang meat in their shops. Mice, small birds, and large insects form the bulk of the shrike's diet.
As is typical of birds that hunt animals for food, it has a strongly notched bill that is capable of tearing flesh.
The Northern Shrike is a strong, perching bird of medium size, generally about 23 cm (9 in.). Its wingspan is 30 to 35 cm (12 to 14 in.). Its plumage is a soft, silver-grey, with wings and tail that are almost black and marked with white. It has a well-developed song, and is also capable of imitating the songs of several birds.
The species is found in Europe, Asia, and northern North America, where it ranges from coast to coast up to the treeline. North American shrikes winter in the more southerly parts of Canada, southward into the United States.