Greetings from Carden, ON!

It’s that time of year again where the responsibilities of the loggerhead shrike teams switch gears from monitoring of wild pairs to the care of conservation-bred fledglings in the field site aviaries. Now that the beginning of August has hit, care is in full swing and we’re looking forward to the few releases we have left this season!

Released shrikes exploring their freedom

Since I took over the position of Carden Shrike Biologist at the end of June (happening to coincide with the start of captive care), lots of friends and family members have been very curious about what I do in my day to day job. With so many people asking, I thought I might give you readers some insight into life as part of the Carden shrike team!

The day starts out around 6:15 AM when my field partner and I get up. We have a quick breakfast, and then start food prep for the birds on site. Each bird gets a nice mix of crickets, mealworms, superworms, dead mice, and live mice, split between morning and evening feeds. Food prep takes about 15-20 minutes, and then we head down to the enclosures. We each generally take a specific enclosure, which is anywhere from a 5-10 minute walk from the cabin and head our separate ways, hopefully avoiding the herd of cattle spread across the field along the way.

One of the release enclosures on-site

Each enclosure has two to three attached units with shared doors between them, and separate entrances for each unit. It’s important to get in and out of each unit relatively quickly and as quietly as possible, so as not to stress out the fledglings. We place the insects into feeding bins, keeping track of what was uneaten from the day before and discarding any uneaten food, change out the water and dead mouse dishes for fresh ones, do a quick scan of the unit, and head into the next one. Feeding typically takes anywhere from 5-10 minutes, and then we head off to a mostly hidden observation spot not too far off from the enclosure to observe the birds and their behaviour (what they’re eating, how much, interactions with other fledglings, etc…).

After morning feeding, we head back to the cabin to wash dishes and care for the live animal colonies. After that, we generally have extra time before the mid-day heat hits where we do some chores and upkeep around the cabin, food prep for the next day, or maybe get in some wild bird monitoring. Once our morning duties are done, we’ve got some downtime until PM feed where we can read, hang out, or nap (we usually nap).

Our lovely cabin

PM feed is pretty similar to AM feed; food prep, down to enclosures, food drop, but unlike the morning feed, we don’t have any observations to do during evening feed. Then it’s back up to the cabin (again, dodging the cattle) to clean some dishes, care for the live animals, and the day is typically done by around 5:30 pm!

Needless to say, life at the ranch is interesting, and you never know what to expect on any given day. The cows make for some interesting “land-mates”; sometimes you won’t see them for days, other times it seems that they’re always around, chewing on the corrals you’ve left outside or licking your car. Sometimes we get uninvited guests in the cabin in the form of mice, squirrels, and the occasional milksnake. From the phoebes that nested above the outhouse (again), to the nighthawks that we get to see displaying every night, it has been quite the adventure so far this season. I’m not sure what I expected my days would be like when I first started this job, but so far each day has been better than I could have imagined, and I’m looking forward to what the rest of the season has in store!

Until next time!

-Sam Shappas

Carden Shrike Biologist- Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Program