After a precipitous drop in the wild eastern loggerhead shrike population in the 1990s, Environment Canada invited Wildlife Preservation Canada to lead the multi-partner recovery effort in 2003. Since then, the wild population size has fluctuated. Studies have shown that although the recovery effort has prevented the species from disappearing from Canada, more work is required to identify and address the causes of the species’ decline.

We work to prevent the eastern loggerhead shrike from disappearing by building the wild population in Ontario, and studying the species to learn more about the threats they face.

It can be incredibly daunting to enter any career path, especially one that’s path is not perfectly straight. There are infinite ways to get your start in conservation, and everybody seems to have a different story. When asked “how did you get into this field?”, every wildlife biologist usually starts by saying “I didn’t take the typical path to this career”. To me, this means there must not be a typical path. Though having a bachelor’s degree in an area like zoology, ecology or environmental studies would seem to be the ideal beginning, rarely have I had a colleague who took this straight path.  I, for example, started my post-secondary education with the goal of being either a doctor or a veterinarian, which is reflected in my educational history. Some biologists that I have worked with in the past started in completely different programs, others built experience through volunteering, and others still built birding skills as a hobby. It is, in fact, encouraged by employers in this field to have varied experience and bring something different to the table!

Without direct access to somebody in this field, it would be impossible to know how many options there are to get your start in conservation or wildlife biology. Earlier this year, I took part in an interview series that strives to connect students, with an interest in a career in the environmental field, with somebody that has an insider’s knowledge. The series is a project spear-headed by rare Charitable Research Reserve in Cambridge. Rare is a multi-faceted charitable organization that brings together research, education and conservation on the 1200 acres of natural lands that the organization safe-guards. This community-based land trust and environmental institute seeks to make the world a more sustainable place by acknowledging that people are a part of the environment, and protecting natural spaces for our enjoyment and well-being, today and into the future. 

The interview series, dubbed “Career Connections”, is aimed at high school students and early undergraduate students. In rare’s words, “With this series of interviews, students can learn more about careers they can pursue in the environmental field. Teachers can use these interviews to meet the needs of Strand A2 of the Ontario Science Curriculum.” My interview focuses not only on my career as a Recovery Biologist with Wildlife Preservation Canada, but also how I got where I am today and what advice I would give to somebody pursuing a similar career path. Watch the interview below! 

Helmi Hess

Research Biologist – Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Recovery

Helmi joined the WPC loggerhead shrike team in 2023 from a background in wildlife biology, rehabilitation and education. She has worked in grassland and aquatic avian research across Canada since 2015, with species including savannah sparrows, chestnut-collared longspurs and American dippers. Helmi has co-authored peer-reviewed papers in both avian physiology through the University of Guelph and in ecotoxicology through the University of British Columbia.

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