Food for Learning
In the News
shrike volunteers, landowners, honoured
November 4th, 2004
by Aimee Pianosi
Local News - There may be fewer Eastern Loggerhead
shrike than ever, but it isn't because there is a lack of interest or a lack
In fact, according to local shrike biologist Kurt Hennige, no one is exactly
sure why the endangered bird is declining in the area.
Two years ago there were 25 breeding pairs, last year 12, and this year 13.
On October 25 a group of local landowners, conservationists and
preservationists gathered to celebrate the species, and their efforts in its
rescue from the brink. Representatives were on hand from Wildlife
Preservation Trust Canada, the Ontario Cattlemens Association, and
Environment Canada to talk to guests.
Hennige is in charge of the local restoration effort and works for WRPT
Canada. He helped landowners use up $100,000 in projects over last winter.
This funding came from the Habitat Stewardship Program of the Cattlemens
"A lot of landowners are happy. We help them cut the red cedar," he said.
Currently shrike are nesting in red cedar, but too much red cedar decreases
their opportunities for hunting. Traditionally the birds nested in hawthorn
trees for protection, but these have also declined.
Besides working as a field biologist, he coordinates the bird survey each
year. Last year there were 21 volunteers who spent a total of 160 hours
surveying 137 sites. But Hennige said there are over 600 possible sites in
the area, so more surveying always needs to be done.
"Before you can even get on the land, you have to find who the landowners
are, ask the landowners.:
The breeding pairs are the lowest recorded numbers in Napanee Plain
for the last 40 years.
"Even more alarming is actually that out of the 13 pairs, we only had seven
nests with successful fledgling young. That's really low. In any loggerhead
shrike studies, 70-90 per cent would be more normal."
Hennige said that nest predation by raccoons, cats, crows, blue jays, ravens
and even snakes could be the cause of the drop in success.
"The year before we did think it was West Nile Virus, but since we see two
years in a row a lot of predation going on in Napanee, and we don't
see the same in the Carden Plain, their breeding success is 90 per
One landowner who got involved in the program is Mike Clair of Newburgh.
He grew up on a cattle farm, and still farms.
"There were always shrikes around here. In the morning you'd go out and move
your cattle from one side of the road to the other, and especially when the
babies were just trying to get out of the nest, the parents would just go
insane around you. You know they are there."
But Clair had missed their presence. One day he saw someone sitting in a car
near his home surveying the field, and found out it was former project co-ordinator
"He was watching them, but as time went along he was looking for them," said
So his family got involved with the restoration project by installing some
fence line and cutting brush. Wire and post were donated, and someone was
hired to do the labour.
Clair said until he met Grooms he had no idea his birds were some of the
last in Ontario.
"They were here. You didn't think there was anything wrong with them." He
said there were also some snakes on the fence near his parent's home that
had been impaled by the shrikes, and that was probably the last local pair.
"We've got the place ready for them to come back here. Hopefully we'll get
them back, that screaming noise, I can always remember them being here."
He said that some of his neighbors have also done some habitat restoration,
and they are all ready and waiting for the shrike's return.
Hennige said the total breeding population of the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike
in Ontario this summer was 27 pairs, but there are 100 birds being bred in
captivity, both at the Metro Toronto Zoo, and another facility.
This bird is a subspecies of the loggerhead shrike, and one other subspecies
in California is also endangered. There is a western subspecies which
migrate into Calgary which are also doing better, although still on the
Hennige says all seven of the subspecies have experienced significant
decline in numbers over the last 25 years.
He advises if you are a landowner with potential nesting spots, or are
interested in volunteering to help with counts, construction projects or
land clearing, contact WPTC at 1-866-833-8888, or go to http://www.shrike.ca