We’re getting a small taste of spring up here in Ontario: the sun is feeling warmer, the snow is melting, we’re hearing red-winged blackbirds and seeing turkey vultures soaring overhead. Loggerhead shrikes are among the first migratory songbirds to return to the province to breed in the spring, so those of us on the loggerhead shrike recovery team are keeping a keen eye and ear out for signs that the Butcher Bird is back. 

A loggerhead shrike returning to the Napanee alvar plains. Photo by N. Cairns. 

While we’re only getting hints of warmer days up here in Ontario, spring is in full swing for our U.S. partners in the south! The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Virginia is a partner facility in our conservation breeding and release program and has been seeing the benefits of an early start to spring. We were over the moon earlier this week to receive reports from SCBI that four of their breeding pairs have been successfully introduced, and that two of the four pairs have already started building their nests! The breeding season has officially begun!

A loggerhead shrike gathering nesting material. Photo by P. Rathner

When the weather warms and partner breeding facilities hear their male shrikes singing and observe them passing little gifts of crickets and mealworms to females in adjacent enclosures, keepers will open the shared doors between enclosures and allow pairs to share the same space. Keepers will observe pairs closely to make sure they are getting along: if they continue to show courtship behaviour and begin gathering nest materials, the introduction was a success!

A male loggerhead shrike feeding a brooding female. After nests are fully constructed, egg laying and incubation begins fairly quickly. Photo by P. Rathner.

Nest-building shrikes are our favourite sign of spring– we can’t wait until warmer weather returns to Ontario and partner facilities up here are able to introduce their breeding pairs. After a long cold winter, news of nest-building shrike pairs are most welcome and give us another beautiful sign that spring is almost here.

If you think you’ve spotted a wild loggerhead shrike returning to Ontario, we want to hear about it! Send your sightings to birds@wildlifepreservation.ca!

Jane Spero, M.Sc.

Conservation Breeding Coordinator – Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Program

Jane holds a Master’s degree in Animal Biosciences from the University of Guelph, where she studied building collision injuries in migratory songbird species. Jane worked as a rehabilitation supervisor, where she was responsible for the care, treatment, and reintroduction of injured and orphaned wildlife, including many species at risk.