Eastern loggerhead shrike. Photo: Larry Kirtley

Hello from WPC’s Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Program in Carden, Ontario, where we have been surveying for this endangered songbird, looking for returned shrikes, checking for bands, and locating nests. We’ve experienced the passing of the seasons here on the alvar over the last two months. Migratory birds have all arrived, leaves have opened up on the trees, and plenty of reptiles and amphibians are out and about. Throughout June, we surveyed as much shrike habitat as we could.

We are excited to say that we’ve detected a total 18 eastern loggerhead shrikes in the Carden core and all of our detected shrikes have partnered up to form nesting pairs. 

Since our last blog update, we’ve detected three additional pairs, bringing us to a total of nine nesting pairs for the 2021 breeding season. We’re trying our best to find an elusive 10th pair to bring us into the double digits, but don’t forget, this is an endangered species!

Some of the highlights of the past month in the field include:

  • Experiencing the resiliency of one breeding pair re-nest after their first clutch of nestlings was predated by another species of bird.
  • Meeting and having the pleasure of working with Carden’s newest field technician, Oliva Trudeau, as we said farewell to Meaghan Tearle who is off on another conservation filled adventure.
  • Watching the next generation of Ontario’s wild eastern loggerhead shrikes fledge from their nests out onto the alvar.

Although the shrike is a songbird, it hunts like a raptor, and we had the opportunity to witness an adult shrike hunt and impale an eastern milksnake.

Eastern loggerhead shrike impaling a milksnake. Photo: Katelyn West

Halfway through the field season, what’s next?

We’re transitioning to the care and release of conservation-bred eastern loggerhead shrikes. This week juvenile shrikes will be arriving to our field release site in Carden from partner facilities in Ontario and the United States, where they were bred and will be released into their natural wild habitat. This will supplement the declining wild population, so that this species does not disappear completely from the area.

Breeding and caring for wildlife, especially an endangered species, is a specialized line of work requiring the proper education, training and permits. To start off the 2021 season of care, we took to landscaping and “re-decorating” our pre-release enclosures to be move-in-ready for the shrikes. During this process it was hard not to feel like some sort of campy realtor or interior designer for birds. In my mind I was playing Love It or List It scenarios, and ultimately, being born in the 90’s lead me down a MTV Cribs narrative. I figured our blog post readers would like to take a peak at what our juvenile shrikes digs look like, so….

Welcome to WPC Cribs: Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Edition!

Eastern loggerhead shrike pre-release enclosure located on part of the Carden alvar. Photo: Katelyn West

Location, location, location! The pre-release enclosures are located on 414-acres of land on the south end of the Carden alvar with wide-open views of their preferred grassland habitat. Thin soils, covered in various grasses, with exposed limestone rock await the shrikes. Natures carpet!

Eastern meadowlark and upland sandpiper. Photos: Katelyn West

Globally rare alvar habitat = cool neighbors! Bobolinks, eastern meadowlarks, upland sandpipers and whip-poor-wills will all be waiting to welcome the newest shrikes to the neighbourhood.

Prairie smoke, wild columbine and cattle out on the alvar. Photos: Katelyn West and Meaghan Tearle

There is an abundance of gorgeous native plant species surrounding the property. This includes prairie smoke, hairy beardtongue, cup plant, wild columbine and more. The property also comes with its own landscapers. Cattle are a part of the active land management at the release site. We’re giving these guys a five star review, as they do such a great job grazing to maintain the grassland. This prevents too much natural succession and unwanted tree/shrub growth.

Interior furnishings

These short-term shrike residences are outfitted with everything a shrike needs to feel right at home. The “furnishings” within the pre-release enclosures are of utmost importance to help keep the shrikes happy and healthy during their stay. Proper additions to the enclosure will encourage natural behaviours like hunting, eating, flying, finding shelter, drinking and bathing.

The Carden field team (Katelyn West and Olivia Trudeau) adding fresh cover to the pre-release enclosures. Photos: Katelyn West

We provide plenty of shaded and protected areas for shrikes to perch and hide in. We use fresh cut eastern white cedar boughs to give the shrike the choice of whether of not to be exposed to the elements and predators. Giving them choice aids in reducing stress levels.

Inside a pre-release enclosure featuring it’s live hawthorn tree. Photo: Katelyn West

Each enclosure was built around a live natural hawthorn tree. This species of tree is very important to shikes. It’s the most common species of tree they naturally nest in out on the Carden alvar. Shrikes are also well known for their classic predatory behavior of impaling their prey on the sharp woody thorns of this tree.

,Natural and man-made features placed within a pre-release enclosure. Photos: Katelyn West

We get a lot of our interior design inspiration from the alvar surrounding the shrike release enclosures. We bring the outside – in! This includes different perching options that they would find in the wild such as deadfall logs and branches. We also add in some man-made flair – barbed wire! Shrikes have adapted to use these sharp wires to impale and cache their food too.

Well, WPC Cribs, you’ve seen the pre-release enclosures, you’ve eyed up the bovine landscapers, you’ve narrowly missed being impaled by a hawthorn tree – now get the heck out and explore the alvar! We hope you enjoyed your online showing of the eastern loggerhead shrike pre-release enclosures. Join us in welcoming our juvenile shrikes and consider donating to WPC to help us cover the cost of caring for them. They eat a lot of food and require maintenance on their beautiful pieces of real estate annually!

Katelyn West

Carden Seasonal Biologist, Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Program

Katelyn is a Fish and Wildlife Technician who has been working and volunteering in the field of avian conservation for the past six years. Majority of her career has been spent working with raptors. She has contributed to efforts being made to restore the endangered population of northern spotted owls in British Columbia through captive breeding, as well as having assisted with monitoring programs for Cooper’s hawks, flammulated owls, great gray owls, bald eagles and northern saw-whet owls.

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