Loggerhead shrikes face a myriad of barriers to their success.  From habitat loss to inclement weather to vehicle collisions,  these birds can barely catch a break!

With only 22 breeding  pairs confirmed in Ontario in 2022, each individual counts  for the success of the species in our province.  

Inhabiting merely one third of their historical Ontario range,  the wild population exists in two pockets; the Carden Alvar and  the Napanee Limestone Plain. This year, the Carden population  suffered many defeats and was plagued by nest failures. With  a conservative estimate of just over a dozen shrikes spotted  in Carden this season, the future of the population remains  uncertain. But through the doom and gloom there is a spark  of hope for this predatory songbird, with an incredible story of  parental resilience.

This year, one pair’s relentless nesting attempts truly paid off!  Discovered before the deciduous leaves had unfurled, the first  nest seemed like a picture-perfect shrike nest; nestled in the  middle of a dense hawthorn on a vast native grassland.

The female diligently incubated the nest in early May, and all  seemed well, until a cold snap hit Carden two nights in a row,  reaching sub-zero temperatures. The next day, our field staff  discovered that the eggs had been abandoned, likely due to  the female keeping herself warm and sacrificing the first nest  attempt.

Shrikes are considered persistent re-nesters, with anecdotes of  females laying up to five sets of eggs before successfully raising  a brood. But with each renest occurring later in the breeding  season, the chance of young surviving decreases. The second  attempt was discovered less than two weeks later, only 100m  away and right next to a nest from last year. Alas, this second  nest was also doomed for failure. In early June, three broken  eggs were discovered below an empty nest: a presumed predation  event. As the saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try  again!

But insanity is doing the same thing over and over again,  expecting different results, right? Our field team became worried  when the pair was not spotted in over a week. Had they been

spooked away from their territory or were they trying a third  time? Indeed they were! A third attempt was discovered in mid June with five eggs.

Cautiously but hopefully, we monitored the site from afar, until  the beginning of July brought the arrival of nestlings! We did not  expect all the eggs to hatch, but these birds proved us wrong. All  five nestlings were alive and well at their first nest check.

At each visit, we held our breath but kept being happily  surprised. They had all survived to the branching stage (early  exploration out of the nest into surrounding branches) and were  facing their final trial before migration. This is often when the  number of successful offspring declines, with mortality recorded  between 33-53% in the first 10 days after fledging. Both parents  must constantly feed the young and defend them from predators  for weeks until the juveniles are finally independent.

Despite the odds, this family continued to stick together, and  were seen as a unit five weeks after fledging! This goes to show,  you can have all the statistics in the world, but animals can defy  them and prove to be resilient.

Through the ups and downs, the shrikes had an overall successful  breeding season this year. We found 12 successful shrike nests  this year, which fledged 37 new young between the Carden and  Napanee core areas. Working with our breeding partner facilities,  we also released 17 new captive-bred juveniles into the wild.  We are hopeful that these new recruits will return to breed in  Ontario again next year!

If you see a shrike, we’d love to know about it! Send sighting  details and photos to birds@wildlifepreservation.ca

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