Greetings from your resident Loggerhead Shrike Field team! My name is Ashlea Veldhoen and I along with my field partner Julie Prentice have been out in the field for Wildlife Preservation Canada since the beginning of May in search of the endangered eastern loggerhead shrike Lanius ludovicianus ssp. migrans, which nest in the Carden Alvar – one of the last and largest remaining areas of contiguous prairie alvar habitats in Ontario.
Below, a classic alvar, complete with shallow limestone bedrock, prairie smoke and other wildflowers, grasses and forbes.
Carden has the most fantastic cloud formations.
Loggerhead shrikes, or as we like to call them – the “butcherbird” – are known best for being a predatory songbird in that they hunt like a bird of prey, hunting prey including insects, rodents and reptiles up to one third their size or even larger, (see my Napanee colleague, Alex Israel’s recent post from May 25 for more on that) but they have the feet of a songbird rather than the strong feet and talons of a bird of prey. This means they can’t hold onto their prey with their feet and instead have developed a unique method of making their prey into bite-sized pieces: Once they catch their prey, shrikes dispatch them using the long hooked bill to sever the spinal cord, then they will bring it to something sharp and spiky – typically a large thorn of a hawthorn bush or piece of barbed wire – where they skewer it and tear it to pieces. Sometimes they will leave some for later, a behaviour we call “food caching”, in case of bad weather or to prepare for a future shortage of food.
So far we’ve been able to witness several male shrikes foraging for food and returning to feed the female while she sits on the nest keeping the eggs warm (who doesn’t love a guy that can serve up the best grub?!), but we suspect that our birds are mainly hunting smaller insect prey at this time as we haven’t been able to find food caches or see much of the prey that they are catching. We are hopeful that with the arrival of chicks we will be able to see more as the season progresses.
May started off on the cooler side compared to last year, so nesting seems to be going a little slower. Even so, we have been able to find five pairs with nests. Three of our nests have hatched and one of these is already nearing fledging (leaving the nest) which means that pair wasted no time in laying after returning from their wintering grounds in late April. The pair was very secretive and we heard babies begging only one time prior to the nest check, so we had no idea the chicks would turn out to be around 15 days old (post hatching) when we found them. It was such an awesome surprise!
Another two nests hatched on or around May 31st as well, so we’re just waiting to see when the other two (of which there were SIX eggs in one), and five – the average – hatch. We are so excited to share their progress as they grow and develop into fully fledged shrikes!
Getting to see the chicks of such a rare bird is a privilege and it makes us feel so appreciative of the efforts of WPC and the support of the partnering organizations and private landowners and cattle ranchers to ensure their survival.
Julie checking out some cows that snuck up on us during a survey in May
Carden Biologist – Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Program
Ashlea Veldhoen has been working with birds in various capacities including captive wild birds in an educational setting, wildlife rehabilitation, bird banding stations and as an ornithological research technician where she first learned to do nest searches for pairs of semipalmated plovers in Churchill, MB with Dr. Erica Nol. Ashlea has two diplomas in Ecosystem Management Technology from Fleming College and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences from Trent University. When she is not chasing shrikes on the Carden Plain, she enjoys dog walks, birding and gardening for nature at her home.