Kayla Villeda reporting to you from Napanee, Ontario. I am this year’s Napanee shrike biologist for the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Program. I am proud to say that this is my second year working for Wildlife Preservation Canada, having spent 4 months in 2018 learning everything I could about the endangered loggerhead shrikes as the Napanee shrike field intern. This year it is my responsibility to monitor wild shrike populations along with educating the general public on our conservation efforts.
For those of you reading this who may be new to the eastern loggerhead shrike, I will try to give you a snapshot of their daily lives. This black, grey and white songbird is also known as the ‘butcher bird’ due to its unique foraging habits. Unlike most songbirds, the loggerhead shrike frequently impales larger prey, such as field mice and small frogs, on sharp thorns and barbed wire before eating it. The bulk of their day is spent foraging and perching on the tops of trees and shrubs defending their territories. When we began monitoring the wild population at the beginning of May, many of the shrikes had already established territories and were looking for mates. By mid-May, most of them had paired off, built nests, and began laying eggs. By the end of the month, many females were incubating eggs in their nests while their male counterparts foraged for food to feed them both.
For the shrike recovery team, the first two weeks of each field season is spent contacting landowners, to reintroduce ourselves and our work, before we start to survey the local area. “We have shrikes at our bird feeder” was one comment made to me that helped me to understand the importance of spreading information about this endangered predatory songbird. In my experience, the general public want to help birds and do this in the simplest way they know; hanging bird feeders. I explained to them that our loggerhead shrikes were more interested in their grassland property and its hawthorn trees.
Quite often, the landowners we meet are well educated on the shrike recovery program and the requirements of the birds, however every now and then we hear of potential shrike habitat being repurposed to make way for new developments. Unfortunately, the modern world doesn’t always allow for rare species to bounce back. For shrikes, they need rugged land with spiky trees, thorny bushes, and wild grasses. To most people, the land that we survey daily looks unappealing and suitable for very little other than grazing cattle, but it is this type of land that our little shrike friends call home. And ‘friends’ is exactly how my field intern and I see our shrikes. Last year, we named the majority of the birds we found, and I eagerly await the return of some of my favourites like The Bard, The Red Bandit, and Count Olaf.
I am glad to say that we currently have 18 birds back in Napanee this year. I’m sure they will earn their own quirky names as we get to know them more through our surveys and monitoring of their daily activities. It is exciting to think that by the time you read my next shrike update, we will have a new abattoir of shrikes (yes, abattoir is the collective noun for this feisty songbird!).
Signing off from the beautiful Napanee Limestone Plains,
Napanee Shrike Biologist – Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Program