Get ready, Love is Blind fans: Wildlife Preservation Canada’s Shrike Blind Dating* is coming in full force! The 2023 season has dropped its new pairs, and we are excitedly monitoring these endangered songbirds at our partner breeding facilities in Ontario, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Virginia as they get introduced to potential genetic matches in hopes of finding The One. Will they “fall in love”, sight unseen? That’s the exact question our captive breeding program staff tune in to find out. This season has seen its fair share of drama, with some pairings failing due to behavioural incompatibility. But we won’t give up! Every shrike deserves to find its match.

Just like in Love is Blind, singles follow a specific pre-meeting protocol during the introductory period. Shrikes do not choose who they are “dating” before being placed in adjoining pods, separated by a mesh wall, though they can see each other. Their only interactions are made through this wall for the first five days. This is an anxious time for shrike keepers, as they watch for signs of compatibility between the birds, or alternately, signs of aggression. Matches between birds cannot be forced or interfered with. Even if two birds are the best genetic match for partnership, it all comes down to if they “shrike” each other. If they don’t, they will need to be repaired and search for “love” elsewhere.

Photo: K. Kerr

The couple truly meets beak-to-beak only after signs of compatibility are witnessed. Humans on Love Is Blind may choose to spend much of their time in a pod with someone they like, indicating that they want to get married and have babies. Shrikes also figure out if they want to share resources and raise young together. The birds may sit next to one another, talk or even sing to each other, and males may pass food or nesting material to females. When the female accepts offerings from the male, she is accepting his proposal.

After matching up in their pods, the couples move into a shared living space, so that they can try to match their physical connection to their emotional one. If they make it through the first few days without any fiery fights, the lovebirds are then left to their own devices. Some couples are more dramatic than others and may display some non-contact aggression (ie. Yelling, gesturing, aggressive stand-offs), which usually does not result in a break-up but can be a red flag! Any unloving physical contact between the birds is a deal breaker.

Photo: P. Rathner

Shrikes are typically monogamous and can be paired with the same partner year after year in the captive population. However, it can be hard to meet the right match in the real world, and finding a mate is no easy feat for a wild bird! Last year there were under 30 breeding pairs counted in the wild in Ontario. A changing physical landscape—due to human development, shifting agricultural practices, ecological succession and a variety of other factors—is changing the breeding landscape for shrikes. Though captive pairing isn’t a shrike’s typical way of “dating”, WPC’s captive breeding and release program is helping to stabilize and bolster the wild population to keep it from further declines.

Next up, our staff keep an eye on nest building, egg laying, incubation, hatching and fledging. Will our shrike couples prove that love truly is blind? Stay tuned to find out!

*This show will not be available on any viewing platform.

Helmi Hess

Research Biologist – Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Program

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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