Saturday, May 9th is World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD), a global campaign dedicated to the conservation of migratory birds! The theme for this year’s WMBD is “Birds Connect Our World“, which focuses on the importance of protecting every habitat that supports a migratory bird’s life cycle. Successful conservation of breeding territories, overwintering grounds, and all the migration routes in between is essential to the survival and recovery of migratory animals, especially species at risk like the loggerhead shrike!

A loggerhead shrike showing off its lightweight radio tag (antenna), which is used to track the bird’s movements during migration. Photo by G. Schultz.

Loggerhead shrikes that live in eastern Canada are local migrants, journeying relatively short distances south after the breeding season to overwinter somewhere in the United States. While we know where they like to spend their summers, we still do not have much information on where they go in the winter.

Loggerhead shrikes face a large number of threats that are contributing to their decline, and evidence suggests that most of these threats occur during migration or on overwintering grounds. Biologists on the Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Team are therefore determined to discover where these shrikes are going in the winter (and how they’re getting there) so that they can begin protecting selected overwintering habitats and migratory routes.  

Left: a radio tag harness, which will be adjusted to fit comfortably when applied. Right: Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Team biologists applying a radio tag before release.

Luckily, the Recovery Team is able to track a portion of the captive-reared birds that they release through the Motus Wildlife Tracking System. A small number of released birds are outfitted with little radio tag backpacks, which emit unique radio signals that will be detected by Motus towers across the country. If a tagged bird passes by a series of towers, its signal will be picked up and an approximate migration path can be charted.

Fall 2018 Motus detections for birds released that year. Tag 56 was released on Aug 23, and detected on three towers in Pennsylvania on Sept 15.

Ten radio-tagged birds were released in 2019, four of which have already been detected on Motus towers in Ontario. All appeared to head almost directly south to the shore of Lake Ontario, and one bird had some later detections to the west, including a hit on a tower at the base of Long Point, on Lake Erie.

With the Motus Wildilfe Tracking System‘s help, the Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Team will be able to narrow down and begin protecting essential shrike habitats that are used in the fall and winter. To learn more about how you can help in the recovery of the Loggerhead Shrike, visit our website at wildlifepreservation.ca.

Jane Hudecki

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.