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Have You Seen This Bird?
The Eastern Loggerhead Shrike

By the Eastern Manitoba Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Action Group

Eastern Loggerhead ShrikeIf you’re ever walking through grassland and come across a grasshopper speared on a twig, don’t assume it was a bad bounce. You’ve found evidence that you’re sharing habitat with shrikes!

Shrike Seekers Sought!

The Eastern Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus migrans) is a grassland bird slightly smaller than a robin. Mostly grey with a white underside, it has white markings on its primarily black wings and tail and a raccoon-like black mask around its eyes. Like its slightly larger cousin the Northern Shrike (see below), the Loggerhead Shrike is a predatory songbird. Because they lack strong talons or claws, shrikes often impale food on branches, thorns or barbed wire fences to help them tear prey into bite-sized pieces. For this meat hanging characteristic, shrikes are often referred to as “butcher birds”. The Loggerhead Shrike’s diet consists primarily of mice, voles, grasshoppers and other insects, while the more predatory Northern Shrike eats a much higher proportion of small rodents and even small birds.

At one time, you could see Eastern Loggerhead Shrikes in Manitoba’s Interlake, south to the American border and east into the Maritimes. A widespread population decline, starting in the 1950s, has reduced their range and numbers to the point that they were listed as Endangered in Canada in 1991 and Endangered in Manitoba in 1998. This means the bird is in imminent danger of being wiped out in much of its former range. (See Manitoba range map.)

Manitoba is for Serious Shrike Spotters!

Manitoba is the only province where you can see three different types of shrikes:

The Eastern Loggerhead Shrike is an Endangered subspecies of shrike that can be seen from May to September in eastern Manitoba.

Another subspecies of loggerhead shrike, the Prairie Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus excubitorides), looks like the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike but inhabits western Manitoba during the summer, especially the extreme southwestern part of the province. This shrike subspecies is listed provincially as Endangered and listed nationally as Threatened, meaning it is likely to become Endangered if trends and limiting factors are not reversed.

The Northern Shrike (Lanius excubitor), a slightly larger, lighter coloured species, nests in Manitoba’s northern taiga and tundra but migrates to the southern part of the province where it spends the winter. If you see a shrike in the fall or winter in Manitoba, it will probably be a Northern Shrike.

(Click thumbnail images to see larger versions.)

When you support Nature North with a Donation, you help the Eastern Manitoba Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Action Group and others get the message out to help conserve Manitoba's wildlife!

In 2001, at least nine Eastern Loggerhead Shrike pairs were found nesting in Manitoba’s only known breeding area located north of Winnipeg. In an attempt to locate more of the birds in eastern Manitoba, the first volunteer Loggerhead Shrike Survey was conducted in May 2001. Twenty dedicated teams of volunteers covered more than 1,000 km of roads in 20 townships. No new occurrences of the bird were identified, confirming its rarity in the province.

Where to Spot Eastern Loggerhead Shrikes

Shrikes nest in isolated trees and shrubs that grow near mowed areas or well-grazed grasslands. They are often seen perched on power lines, fences and other elevated sites in suitable hunting terrain where they can swoop down on prey. This swooping behaviour and the attractive grassland habitat of roadside ditches make Eastern Loggerhead Shrikes especially vulnerable to collisions with vehicles. Habitat loss and environmental contamination are also identified as factors that may directly or indirectly limit populations of the bird.

Saving Shrikes

Monitoring of Loggerhead shrike pairs in southeastern Manitoba has shown that predators and cool, wet weather cause many nests to fail. Young are particularly susceptible to wet weather when they are about a week old. Their growing appetites force parents to spend more time hunting for food and less time in the nest watching over the young. Common predators of eggs and young are other birds like crows or magpies, and mammals like raccoons and cats.

Monitoring efforts are teamed with a stewardship and habitat improvement program being delivered by the Eastern Manitoba Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Action Group (EMRAG). The mission of this group is to establish a sustainable population of Eastern Loggerhead Shrike in Manitoba through:

Cooperative habitat stewardship projects with cattle producers and landowners who have suitable habitat on their property

Voluntary partnerships with other interest groups and stakeholders; and

Public education on the plight of Loggerhead Shrikes and increased awareness of opportunities to participate in monitoring and management efforts.

To date, 28 Manitoba landowners have voluntarily agreed to enhance Eastern Loggerhead Shrike habitat in cooperation with EMRAG. Similar recovery action groups have been established in Ontario where a larger population remains, and in Quebec where the birds have also occurred historically.

Be a Shrike Steward

Stewardship activities that benefit both shrikes and landowners include fencing out livestock from dugouts and establishing an alternative watering system; converting cropland to grassland; implementing a rotational grazing system to improve grassland quality and provide shrikes with a mosaic of habitat; and improving shrike nesting, perching and hunting opportunities by planting isolated trees and shrubs or shelter-belts in yards or pastures.

EMRAG members include the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association (MCPA), Manitoba Conservation, Manitoba Hydro, City of Winnipeg, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Portage Natural History Society, Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration and other interested individuals.

The Eastern Manitoba Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Action Group is tracking occurrences of this rare bird. To report a sighting, learn more about the stewardship program or to participate in the 2002 volunteer survey for shrikes contact one of the following:

The Manitoba Cattle Producers Association (website) at (204) 772-4542

Ken De Smet, Manitoba Conservation (email) in Winnipeg at (204) 945-5439

Thanks for learning about Loggerhead Shrikes! Bye for now!

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