Eastern loggerhead shrikes are one of Canada’s most endangered songbirds. In the past, they could be found from Manitoba to New Brunswick. Now, however, there are fewer than 25 breeding pairs, restricted to two small isolated pockets in Ontario: the plains of Carden and Napanee. After a precipitous drop in the wild eastern loggerhead shrike population in the 1990s, Environment Canada invited Wildlife Preservation Canada to lead the multi-partner recovery effort in 2003. Since then, the wild population size has fluctuated. Studies have shown that the recovery effort has prevented the species from disappearing from Canada, and we are continuing the hard work of breeding and release, monitoring and working with partners to save this endangered songbird. 

One of the first things I learned from WPC’s Conservation Programs Director, Hazel Wheeler, previously the Loggerhead Shrike Lead Biologist, was about a phenomenon they liked to call The Shrike Effect:

Everything that can be more difficult, will be more difficult.”

…And they were right! The loggerhead shrikes I monitored both amazed and baffled me repeatedly during my first month as Shrike Biologist in the Napanee region of southern Ontario. Now, defining the phenomenon is not enough, so I will explain it more fully with a few examples!

One example of The Shrike Effect occurred when we began conducting nest checks. Part of monitoring loggerhead shrikes includes counting the number of eggs in the nest (first nest check) and the number of nestlings in the nest (second nest check) following strict field protocols to minimize disturbance. We had estimated that the nest was approximately 7 feet off the ground up a red cedar and could be reached using a phone attached to a selfie stick. However, looks can be deceiving, and the faraway nest appeared much higher once standing next to the tree. The nest ended up being about 10-11 feet high in the red cedar tree and required a small ladder to reach the nest properly The Shrike Effect.

First nest check of six eggs. 

The second example is the cryptic nature of shrikes, which makes them VERY good at hiding their nest site. At one of our sites, a male was seen feeding a female on a nest (a behaviour often seen when the female is incubating eggs). Yet as time passed there were fewer sightings of the shrike pair until a day when no birds were seen. I had thought that the nest might have failed… but on the follow-up visit, the nest was bustling with activity with both adults returning to the nest frequently to feed the newly hatched and hungry nestlings The Shrike Effect.

My last example (although there are plenty more) is the tricky task of resighting birds with colour bands. For those who are new to the Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Project, shrikes are banded with three colour bands and one federal metal band on their legs following strict protocols. Banding allows us to

identify each bird from afar and monitor them through time. The challenge here is to identify the full band combinations because you need to see both legs of a shrike in good lighting, which is difficult since they often don’t sit still for long. Then once you manage to see the bands you need to make sure the color you are seeing is correct, as some colour bands (like white and light blue) can look very similar The Shrike Effect.

Throughout my first month, I learned many things while monitoring shrikes, as challenging as it was to find and monitor them, it was also rewarding to see the nestlings successfully leaving the nest. I am grateful to be able to work with this endangered species and help do my part in restoring the eastern loggerhead shrike population.

Below, prime shrike habitat, an open field dotted with red cedar trees.

~ Lakesha Smith, Napanee Shrike Biologist

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