Photo: Erica Royer

Meet Barb, the newest species ambassador for loggerhead shrikes! Barb was hatched and hand-raised this past summer at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), one of the Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Program’s Conservation Breeding facilities. Barb will eventually hold the important role of teaching the community about our impact on nature and wildlife, and about what we can do to help conserve species-at-risk like the loggerhead shrike. Close-up encounters with Barb will help foster love, appreciation, and connection to the natural world.  

Named after the unique impaling behaviour loggerhead shrikes employ when storing food (often on thorny bushes and barbed wire), Barb quickly won over the hearts of WPC’s Loggerhead Shrike Recovery team. She was hand-fed a unique diet rich in vitamins and nutrients that are specific to the needs of a growing loggerhead shrike while being raised, and is now happily feasting on a daily diet of crickets, mealworms and mice. She is monitored closely by facility vets and keepers to ensure the highest calibre of health and welfare. For SCBI keeper Leighann Cline, hand-rearing a loggerhead shrike has been one of her professional goals since she became involved with the program in 2017.

“They are such an amazing species, but it is very difficult to get visitors excited about their conservation when they cannot see one up close,” Cline said. SCBI primarily breeds shrikes with the goal of reintroducing birds into their native habitat. Therefore, interaction with humans is kept to a minimum.

“Barb is a very energetic and charismatic bird who seems to enjoy interacting with her keepers,” Cline said. “We are certain she will easily win over the hearts of visitors and raise awareness to the alarming plight of not only loggerhead shrikes but of many of our native grassland species.”  

While cuddling with a young songbird may look cute, it should only be undertaken with proper permitting and with appropriate resources. Do not try this at home! Barb will undoubtedly excite and engage everyone she encounters, which will give community members the opportunity to foster a strong connection with loggerhead shrikes and the grasslands they live in. If you want find out how you can help the loggerhead shrike, visit our website at www.wildlifepreservation.ca. Be sure to visit our conservation breeding partner facility at www.nationalzoo.si.edu!

Did You Know?

Although shrikes hunt and eat the same things as a bird of prey, they lack a bird of prey’s strong talons and powerful feet. To compensate, they shake what they’ve caught in the same way a dog would shake a chew-toy, and use their specialized beak to tear away bite-sized pieces of food. Anything that is left uneaten will often be impaled on barbed wire and thorny shrubs like hawthorn bushes, giving them the suitable nickname of “Butcher Bird”. The behaviour is thought to serve several purposes, including acting as a larder of food for nestlings and a territorial display to attract mates and mark home range boundaries.

Keepers at SCBI provide everything Barb needs to perform this natural impaling behaviour in the comfort of her enclosure. She is given hawthorn and buckthorn branches, which are replaced regularly.

Jane Hudecki

Endangered Species Technician – Fraser Valley Wetlands Wildlife

Michelle was born and raised in Alberta where she graduated from the University of Calgary with a bachelor’s degree in Zoology. She recently made the move to BC to continue to pursue her dream of being a conservation biologist.