The final summer month at the Carden, Ontario, release site has flown by, and now our juvenile eastern loggerhead shrike are flying south for their overwintering grounds. A few of the  shrikes we released this month are already very familiar with the south, having journeyed from Virginia to our release site in early August. The rest were born in Ontario and are making this trip for the first time, often obtaining quite a few fans along the way!

After much difficulty obtaining proper documentation to cross the border, twenty fledglings from our partners at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia arrived in August. The released juveniles still onsite seemed especially curious about these American immigrants, observing and calling back and forth with them extensively. Perhaps they had an unusual accent – similar to humans, some birds are known to have regional dialects – or maybe they were impressed by their size, as several of these shrikes were quite mature due to the earlier breeding season in Virginia. These good-sized birds made excellent candidates for our remaining radio tags, wrapping up the Motus work for this season.

Taking advantage of free mealworms

Wild shrike monitoring wrapped up at the beginning of August, as none of the pairs we were monitoring attempted a second clutch. Here in Ontario, wild shrikes generally have one clutch of young, whereas captive pairs often have two or even three, similar to loggerhead shrikes which breed in the central and southern United States. The monitored wild pairs all began to disperse once fledglings were fully grown and independent in late July or early August, so there were few new observations to be made, but we had an interesting surprise: for the first time, we were able to observe a few of our released captive-bred juveniles hunting and interacting with wild shrikes on other breeding sites after dispersing from the release site this summer! A few wild juveniles were also seen socializing at our release, although they didn’t join in getting an easy meal at our supplemental insect bins with the captive-bred shrikes.

Welcome to Canada, eh!

Care for the captive and released juveniles was still extensive throughout August with the last release occurring on the 31st. These released birds were monitored and provided with supplementary insects for another week to smooth their adjustment to life in the wild. As exhausting as the last few months caring for them had been, it was extremely difficult to leave them and head back home because a part of me wanted to stay and feed the stragglers until they left of their own accord. Of course, this wouldn’t help them in the long run after the first week of September brought the first frost at the release facility, a strong signal that it was high time for the shrikes to migrate south. Continuing to provide food once they were capable of being independent would discourage them from migrating at an appropriate time and possibly reduce their probability of survival, so that knowledge made leaving them to strike out on their own much easier. Besides, the more social shrikes stick together in groups, so their journey south will not have to be solo unless they want to go it alone.

Released juvenile shrikes sticking together

A few citizen sightings have provided us with exciting news of our released shrikes before the radio tag data have had time to come in! One of the juveniles which came from Virginia was so keen to head back south that it was observed 85km south of the release site just three days later. This sighting in Darlington was unique because the colour markings we give juveniles usually wears off long before they disperse away from the release site, but this shrike’s head feathers were still coloured purple! Another of our juveniles was spotted over 200km South in Buffalo, NY during its fall migration. Due to some good photos and observations, we were able to identify this Ontario-bred individual which was released almost a month prior to its brief stopover in Buffalo. Although I am grateful to see evidence of our released juveniles as they journey south, I strongly encourage any birders and photographers to keep the code of ethics in mind; even when observing an exciting rarity, the comfort and welfare of the bird is paramount and getting a good view or photo must come second.

Due to the excellent work at our partner breeding facilities we had a record-breaking release year with nearly 130 total juvenile eastern loggerhead shrikes released in the Ontario sites of Carden and Napanee. It has been incredibly rewarding to watch these shrikes grow and mature (like the shy male practicing singing in the video, below). I am grateful beyond words to have the opportunity to contribute to this endangered species’ survival in such a hands-on way, which would not be possible without the support provided by Wildlife Preservation Canada’sspartners and donors. I am so appreciative to everyone who has contributed, large or small, to the success of this program and thereby the survival of this unique species.

-Alisa Samuelson, LoyaltyOne Young Conservation Leader, 2017.