Food for Learning
In the News
We should shriek about the shrike's plight
Jan 05, 2008 04:30 AM
What marked federal Conservatives at the recent global warming talks in Bali
was obstruction: Environment Minister John Baird made sure Canada stood
squarely in the way of any significant progress.
Now, as if to emphasize that obstruction is a defining trait when
intervention is needed to forestall environmental disasters, Environment
Canada wants to cut funding to a recovery plan for Eastern loggerhead
They are the most critically endangered of Ontario's migratory songbirds.
Last year there were only 24 nesting pairs in the province; in 1992, there
Why this recoiling from intervention? Is it a misplaced transfer of
laissez-faire thinking from economics? Whatever it is, it's disturbing. In
the case of shrikes, it's scandalous. The Eastern loggerhead shrike is
teetering on the brink of extinction.
The recovery plan is showing tenuous success, with a captive breeding
program from which 97 juvenile shrikes were released last year, 111 in 2006,
and 64 in 2005. However, the number of nesting pairs returning in the spring
was the same last year as it had been five years ago, so the best that can
be said for the shrikes is that their march to oblivion has stalled.
But the government seems to think oblivion for a species is okay.
Environment Canada doesn't want to renew a five-year agreement with Wildlife
Conservation Canada under which it has been providing $200,000 a year, or
about 56 per cent of the total required by the recovery plan.
To the complete shame of Canada, there's talk that the Bronx Zoo in New York
may take the captive breeding birds. There's even been talk of euthanasia.
There are 120 captive birds in the breeding program, which began in 1997,
with 43 birds captured from the wild. By 2000, there were 89 in captivity.
None has been released, because by now they couldn't survive in the wild.
During the winter, they are separated and kept in individual cages at the
Toronto Zoo and at a site in Ingersoll. In April, breeding pairs are
transferred in large cages in the Carden Plain, between Lake Simcoe and
Balsam Lake to the east, as well as on open fields on the Bruce Peninsula.
One reason for the decline of shrikes is habitat loss. They need grasslands
that are cropped short, usually by cattle, so they can catch insects such as
grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles. They also feed on mice and small birds,
such as young sparrows.
In addition, they need thorn trees, such as hawthorns, or barbed wire
fences, so they can impale their prey. Impaling creates a kind of a larder
to which a shrike can return when pickings are slim. It also holds larger
prey in place for dissecting into bite-sized chunks that can be fed to young
The male shrike feeds the female for 14 to 18 days while she incubates four
to six eggs. Then he feeds the hatchlings plus the female, who stays in the
nest to keep the young warm, for another five days.
A couple of weeks after hatching, the fledglings leave the nest, but they
still need to be fed for another two to four weeks. In the meantime, the
female often lays more eggs, and the male has double duty to perform,
feeding her, a new batch of hatchlings, and the fledglings from the first
With so many offspring, shrikes have the capacity to rebound quickly. But
it's not happening. In addition to losing habitat, something unknown is
occurring to shrikes in their wintering areas.
Instead of pulling out props from the recovery program, the government
should be supporting it, and also providing research money to find out where
Ontario's Eastern loggerheads are wintering, and why they don't return.