From biologist to hacker
Posted onSeptember 5, 2023by, ,
A new group of conservation-bred loggerhead shrikes are off to join the wild population after another successful summer of WPC’s hacking program (and no, I don’t mean computer hacking!).
What does hacking mean?
In conservation, hacking refers to the practice of raising young birds in an environment that allows for them to hone their hunting and flight skills, as well as view their natural environment from an area safe from predators before they face the world on their own. For endangered eastern loggerhead shrikes, this means we place the young born in our conservation breeding program a mesh-sided enclosure in suitable habitat.
Within these specially-designed enclosures, the shrikes have natural areas of cover in the form of hawthorn trees. The hawthorn trees allow the shrikes to practice their signature feeding technique – impaling their prey, giving them the nickname “butcher birds”. The birds are provided a daily diet of invertebrates and mice, which resemble their naturally occurring food.
Young loggerhead shrikes survey their surroundings from a hacking enclosure.
For WPC’s shrike team, the hacking program means caring for our live prey colonies, providing prey in large “corrals” from which the shrikes may catch their meals, and observing the shrikes from afar to ensure they are exhibiting healthy behaviour. After an appropriate period adjusting to their new environment and learning to catch prey, shrikes that appear to be suitable candidates for release are fitted with a unique combination of coloured leg bands, or a MOTUS radio transmitter. The colour bands allows individual birds to be identified in future years if they are observed returning to Ontario after migration, while the radio transmitters allow for more detailed tracking of a bird’s migration route.
On release day, a large door is opened on the side of the enclosures, and the shrikes exit into their new world at their own pace. The food amounts we provide are gradually reduced over the following days, encouraging the shrikes to find their own natural food, but still providing some help should they need it.
A few days post-release, this loggerhead shrike juvenile uses a hacking enclosure as a perch as it gazes out on the surrounding landscape.
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