Dear Diary,

This is it. Today’s the day! I’ve been moved right next to the most beautiful female I’ve ever seen. Thank you Matchmaker! I’ll try to win her affections with my voice. I’m a little out of practice but hopefully she’ll appreciate the feeling behind my song! If that doesn’t work I’ll shower her with gifts. Maybe a delicious mealworm would win her affection? Perhaps a big juicy cricket? I’m not sure what she likes so I’ll offer a bit of everything. Maybe I could build a nest to show her I’m serious! This female has just what I’m looking for– I hope the feeling is mutual. Time will tell!

A match made in heaven! This pair is clearly getting along; the male offers a tasty treat to his brooding female. Photo by P. Rathner.

It’s the season of love for loggerhead shrikes in our Conservation Breeding and Release Program! We may still have snow on the ground, but the days are getting longer, the sun is getting warmer, and resident birds are beginning to sing and stake out their territories. Wild loggerhead shrikes are among the first migratory songbirds to return to their breeding grounds in the spring– many can be seen as early as mid-march. This means we’ve got a few weeks to go before wild loggerhead shrikes return to Eastern Canada’s alvar landscapes!

Like peas in a pod! This wild shrike pair spends the day hunting for food. Photo by P. Rathner.

February is typically the deadline to finalize bird pairs in our Conservation Breeding and Release Program so that we can get ready for the breeding season. Before we can expect a summer full of precious little hatchlings and nestlings we’ve got to make sure that each of our birds has met its match; in other words, that each male and female has been paired successfully!

Enter our Matchmaker, who is otherwise known as the program’s consulting population geneticist! Our population geneticist carefully pairs up each bird in our breeding program, taking many things into consideration, including previous breeding history, inbreeding values, and offspring genetics.

Once pair recommendations are made, our next step is to make sure birds are set up and comfortable in their breeding enclosures. Breeding enclosures typically consist of multiple adjacent units with shared walls, so males and females can be given the chance to interact safely before shared doors are opened.

Can you spot both birds? This pair in our Conservation Breeding and Release Program are getting along in the same breeding enclosure.

Once pairs are matched up and transferred to their breeding enclosures, keepers must observe signs of courtship before opening shared doors and introducing pairs to the same shared space. Signs of courtship include males offering females “nuptial gifts” (items of food gifted across shared walls), pairs perching beside one another on either side of a shared wall, males singing, and occasionally nest building. Once these courtship signs are observed, keepers will open shared doors and watch closely while pairs get to know each other in the same space. If it’s a match, then pairs will begin nest building over the next few days!

Our Matchmaker has been able to pair up all the birds in our breeding program for the season. While our partner breeding facilities in Ontario will have to wait a little longer for warmer weather, U.S. facilities further south will be ready to introduce pairs over the next few weeks. It won’t be long before we see if our birds have met their match!

…”Then comes the baby in the baby carriage!” Or rather, “then come the hatchlings in the grass-lined nest!” Photo by P. Rathner.

Jane Spero

Conservation Breeding Coordinator – Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Program (on leave)

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.