Shrike program paving the way in migratory songbird conservation

Conservation recovery still critical for Canada’s loggerhead shrike populations. From the 2020 Annual Report.

Loggerhead shrikes were once a common sight in grasslands across southern Ontario, but their numbers have dropped steadily since the 1960s. They would have disappeared entirely from Canada if not for conservation action. Habitat loss, here and on their southern overwintering sites, has reduced numbers to the point where they are just hanging on. 

Eastern loggerhead shrike, 
(Lanius ludovicianus alvarensis)
Status: Endangered in Canada

The goal of WPC’s recovery program is to re-establish a self-sustaining wild population of shrikes in Canada.  Our hands-on breeding and release activities are achieving this by adding new birds to the population each year – an integral part of a wider set of conservation actions coordinated by WPC and our partners that also includes habitat protection, population monitoring, research, landowner outreach, and education.

Saving the loggerhead shrike in eastern Canada requires at least 35 nesting pairs across three separate sites. Our team monitored 16 wild pairs in 2020 (11 in Napanee, 4 in Carden, 1 in Smiths Falls), which produced 41 fledglings – although this low count could have been influenced by restricted fieldwork and travel during the pandemic. 

Conservation-bred birds comprised 24% of the wild population. Pairings with at least one conservation-origin bird contributed to 29% of this year’s wild fledglings. This highlights the importance of the breeding and release program in maintaining the wild population. We are encouraged that our release methods are producing healthy birds who survive, migrate, and then return to breed in the wild.

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Breeding facility partners produced 23 fledglings. Most were retained to bolster the captive population, and one of these was hand-reared to serve as an outreach ambassador. Seven young were released at Carden to augment the wild population. 

A significant discovery was made this past season. A shrike that had been born in captivity at the Nashville Zoo was brought north and released by WPC in Ontario in 2019. This amazing individual migrated south for the winter and returned to nest in Ontario in 2020, representing a global first for migratory songbird conservation. This observation has important encouraging ramifications for the shrike recovery program, as well as other migratory songbird conservation programs, and is a major clue to solving the biological mystery of migration.

[et_pb_testimonial author=”Hazel Wheeler, Lead Biologist” portrait_url=”” _builder_version=”4.2.2″]

Despite the year’s challenges, the eastern loggerhead shrike recovery program developed new conservation breeding partnerships, discovered critical information about migration and threats facing shrikes, and safely monitored and maintained wild populations. As always, our work was aided immensely by the dedicated network of partners that share WPC’s passion for this unique songbird. Together we will save this species and its grassland habitat in Canada.


WPC’s Project Partners

  • African Lion Safari
  • BluEarth Renewables
  • Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums
  • Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative
  • Carden Forum
  • Carolina Raptor Centre
  • Couchiching Conservancy
  • Environment & Climate Change Canada – Canadian Wildlife Service
  • Granby Zoo
  • Helen McRea Peacock Foundation at the Toronto Foundation
  • Hodgson Family Foundation
  • Kingston Solar LP
  • K.M. Hunter Charitable Fund
  • Laurentian University
  • Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo and Nature Centre
  • Napanee Plains Joint Initiative
  • Nashville Zoo at Grassmere
  • The National Aviary
  • The Nature Conservancy of Canada
  • The North American Loggerhead Shrike Working Group
  • Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks
  • Ontario Parks
  • Ontario Veterinary College
  • Queen’s University
  • ReNew Zoo
  • Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute — National Zoo
  • Takla Foundation 
  • The Toronto Zoo
  • Trent University
  • Western University
  • York University

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