Food for Learning
In the News
Turning the corner - efforts to save endangered bird pay off
Jul 07, 2008 10:25 ET
Eastern loggerhead shrike recovery
GUELPH - Just 11 years ago, the future of Eastern Loggerhead Shrike looked
very grim. With only 18 wild pairs in the province, the species was on the
brink of extinction. Now, a captive-breeding and release program to save
this rare bird is producing remarkable results.
For the fourth year in a row captive-bred shrikes released to the wild have
survived migration and returned to breed. An unprecedented seven
captive-bred birds were spotted in the wild this year- making up more than a
quarter of the number of wild pairs.
"This is a huge milestone," says Elaine Williams, Executive Director of
Wildlife Preservation Canada
(WPC), the Guelph-based non-profit organization spearheading shrike
recovery efforts. "Although we still have a lot of work to do, we're clearly
making a difference. Without the recovery program, the shrikes would likely
be extinct today."
The breeding and release program has astonished the conservation world with
its rapid success. In 2005, just four years after WPC began releasing
captive-bred birds, the first one returned. This year, for the first time,
two of the captive-bred birds spotted in the wild were two-year-olds.
"We're all thrilled to see birds that we've released return two years
later," says WPC Species Recovery Biologist Jessica Steiner. "There's
absolutely no question that our captive breeding program is increasing the
wild population." This year, a total of 27 pairs were spotted in the wild -
a 150% jump from their lowest point.
"Our return rates are also impressive," Steiner points out. "While the
return rate for one-year-old migratory shrikes is only one per cent, more
than five per cent of our captive-bred shrikes returned this year. It's a
testament to the fitness of the birds we're releasing."
In addition to the captive breeding and release program, the recovery
efforts include habitat restoration and stewardship, public outreach and
applied research. Williams notes that the current success wouldn't be
possible without the ongoing support of many landowners, volunteers and
"Saving an endangered species doesn't happen overnight, so the vision and
commitment of our supporters is crucial," she says. "We're particularly
grateful to our largest private sector donor, Boisset Family Estates, the
makers of French Rabbit wines, who stepped in to support us this spring when
government funding cuts put the program into jeopardy."
/For further information: Still digital and video footage of Eastern
Loggerhead Shrike are available.
Wildlife Preservation Canada (WPC) is a charitable organization devoted to
saving highly endangered animal species facing imminent extinction in Canada
and internationally — species whose numbers in the wild are so low that a
great deal more than habitat protection is required to recover them. Our
conservation programs include research, captive breeding, reintroduction,
habitat stewardship and public education — each a crucial part of species
recovery — and all of our hands-on interventions are guided by scientific
research and field data. For more information about WPC and the Eastern
Loggerhead Shrike, please visit
About the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike:
The Eastern Loggerhead Shrike is a rare combination. It’s both a songbird
and a bird of prey that hunts mice, insects and even small snakes and
impales them on thorns and barbed wire. For the past fifty years, these
so-called “butcher birds” have been disappearing from the Canadian
grasslands where they were once a familiar sight. In Ontario, only a few
dozen Eastern Loggerhead Shrikes remain in the wild.
About the Recovery Effort:
With the help of local landowners and volunteers, WPC has been breeding
shrikes in large enclosures in their natural habitat and releasing them to
boost the wild population. Since the captive breeding program was launched
in 1997, more than 300 captive-bred shrikes have been released to save the
wild population from extinction.
Another key part of the program is restoring the short grassland that
shrikes depend on. Recovery efforts focus on the Carden Plain, the Bruce
Peninsula and Napanee — areas where the black-masked birds were once
a common sight. Last year, more than half the wild population nested in
areas that had been restored.
In addition to the Boisset Family Estates funding through the LCBO Natural
Heritage Program towards the captive-breeding and release program, the
shrike recovery program is being funded this year by Environment Canada’s
Habitat Stewardship Fund and the Province of Ontario’s Species at Risk