In search of shrike

Eastern loggerhead shrike. Photo by Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Donald Stokes
Eastern Ontario Outdoors

I have driven time and again over the years, looking for wildlife during my travels. One local trip, that has befuddled me, is looking for the endangered Loggerhead Shrike to the north of Newburgh. The signs are there, but I have never actually seen one.

Recently I took note on two separate occasions of seeing people, with spotting scopes, scanning fields to the west and north of Selby. I am used to seeing folks using them on the prairies for mule deer and antelope and in the mountains for sheep and eagles. Here it is not as common, so I stopped and asked. It turns out, they were scouting for Loggerhead Shrike.

The Loggerhead Shrike or “butcher bird” has been on the endangered list in Canada since 1991. The total wild population in Canada is estimated to be 40 according to the 2023 report by Wildlife Preservation Canada. Eleven pairs were noted in this region in the same report, with the fragile population being supplemented, by a captive breeding program, based in Ontario. 

It is about the size of a robin and has an oversized head and a dark band around its eyes, similar to a raccoon. With a grey and white breast, a black tail with white outer feathers, it has a short beak with a fairly sharp hook. It arrives in April or May and leaves for the south, in late August. It can have up to five or six spotted eggs.

With a nickname like the “butcher bird, it is a unique songbird, that is a stealthy visual predator. It often hangs its food, be it a small rodent or large insect, on sticks and even barbed wire. Nearby, expect elevated hunting and foraging perches, often close to pastures with long and short grass, for its prey. If it has some open areas with cedar, and is connected to similar areas on our local limestone plains, it may very well hold promise. 

Picking up plastics including twine by a road or in a field, can all help improve the Loggerhead Shrikes fortunes, according to lead biologist Jane Spero from the Wildlife Preservation Council. This one move can pay dividends, time and again for many things in the outdoors. It can all begin, with something as simple as a drive to spot wildlife, like the Loggerhead Shrike.

I welcome your suggestions. 

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