Songbird sends critters scrambling for cover

Loggerhead Shrike | Wildlife preservation group seeks population data to plan habitat conservation programs

A small animal hanging on a barbed wire fence might seem like a gruesome accident, or strange foreshadowing from a macabre horror movie .

But the tiny animals and insects were likely impaled there by a small songbird called the loggerhead shrike.

The shrike, which is smaller than a robin, hunts like a hawk, even though it lacks the strong talons.

Their diet includes grasshoppers, snakes, frogs, mice and other songbirds.

Martin Stoffle, bird watcher and part-time field assistant in biology at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, said the shrikes are good for controlling pests.

The shrike can grow up to 15 times its birth weight in just two weeks. The Prairie Loggerhead Shrike was classified as threatened in 2005 under the Species At Risk Act. The Eastern Loggerhead Shrike is classified as endangered.

Ashley Fortney, the Habitats Stewardship Co-ordinator for the Shrubs for Shrikes program, said they monitor the population by sending out census cards to participants.

“We have a program where we work closely with rural landowners and the goal is obviously to conserve habitat for the loggerhead shrikes,” said Fortney.

Andrew Didiuk, wildlife biologist with the Species At Risk unit, said recovery strategies have been created to see where the habitats stewardship program should be headed. It in-cludes conservation measures and action plans for different provinces.

Didiuk said they have a good idea of the species’ needs for habitat but because the birds are nesting in abandoned farmyards and shelter-belts, he is worried they are not reproducing successfully enough to expand the population.

Elaine Williams, executive director for Wildlife Preservation Canada, said her organization is working on a captive breeding program to try and increase the eastern population.

Didiuk and Williams agree the birds’ winter migration may be causing the decline in numbers.

Williams said researchers have been working on geo-locators for the bird’s back. When one Eastern Shrike with a locator returned for the first time this year, they found it wintered in Illinois.

“Illinois happens to be a state where, if you have a map where you show anything from white to dark red and the dark red being very intensive use, Illinois happens to be a state that [neonicotinoid use] happens a lot in,” she said.

Didiuk said they are still trying to figure out where the Prairie Loggerhead Shrike spends winter by using a technique called stable isotopes in the feathers of the shrikes.

He believes they may be wintering in places like Mexico and the Caribbean.

“That’s an important first step, to find out where they’re going, before you can consider what kind of conservation issues might be occurring,” said Didiuk.

If a shrike is seen, the public can call Wildlife Preservation Canada’s toll-free number 800-956-6608 or Nature Saskatchewan’s Hootline 800-667-4668.