Greetings from Carden, ON site of the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Program.
School may be out for the summer for the kids, however, a crash course in learning how to be an eastern loggerhead shrike and who is a friend, foe, or food is just beginning for our young shrikes. Our wild shrike nestlings are almost all grown up and are now considered fledglings. To “fledge” means to develop flight feathers that are long enough for sustained flight. It is during this time that the young birds are old enough to leave the nest but still stay around the general area with their parents and siblings. This is a critical time where the young shrikes are learning the skills needed to be a shrike and how to survive on their own. However, they are not immediately independent as they are still fed by the parents for several weeks, eventually receiving less food as they start to hunt for themselves.
We have been lucky enough to watch young fledglings hunt for food, albeit rather clumsy, by chasing after hopping grasshoppers and scurrying beetles on the ground. Another important aspect to learn, which is integral to being a shrike, is how to impale prey. Shrikes impale prey such as grasshoppers, beetles, and rodents, to accommodate for their lack of large talons. We’ve witnessed a young fledgling practicing impaling by using a leaf. The fledgling tore off a leaf from a hawthorn tree and then tried to impale it on a thorn several times before it lost the leaf to the wind. Better luck next time!
Not only are the young shrikes learning to hunt by becoming more coordinated and better at flying, they must also learn who is a foe. Since the young shrikes are still learning to fly they are more vulnerable on the ground compared to their parents, who can maneuver more easily to escape predators. Juvenile and adult shrikes can fall prey to a variety of species including cats, raccoons, crows, and hawks. It is also important for the shrikes to learn to be quiet to not attract predators and to avoid being in open sight for extended periods of time. The young can be quite loud when they get excited over incoming food from a parent, which normally includes lots of wing flapping. As they get bigger and can fly better they also learn which species are not worth evading and expending their energy, such as non-threatening songbirds
A recent highlight of the summer field season for me was helping Lead Biologist, Hazel Wheeler, with trapping and banding of three adult shrikes. We band the birds with both a metal band and plastic colour bands to create a unique combination to be able to identify the birds individually. This allows us to know which birds occupy which territories from year to year, who mates with who, and who is seen on someone else’s territory. Since we have the bird in hand, we also quickly collect other information such as sex, age, weight, and body measurements.
Soon it will be the captive-born juveniles turn to perfect their hunting skills and get ready for their release into the wild. We are anxiously awaiting their imminent arrival!
Carden Shrike Biologist – Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Program