2017 was a productive year for DGIF’s Virginia Loggerhead Shrike banding and monitoring project, a collaboration with partners from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. Loggerhead Shrikes are a state-threatened bird and are listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Virginia’s Wildlife Action Plan. These fascinating songbirds behave more like a bird of prey, hunting insects, birds, lizards, and small mammals from perches, such as fence posts and utility poles. Since they lack talons for immobilizing their prey, Loggerhead Shrikes impale their prey on the thorns of shrubs and small trees or on barbed wire. Unfortunately, the shrike population has dropped sharply over the last half-century through much of their range in Canada and the United States. Although historically they were widely distributed across Virginia, shrikes are now considered rare to uncommon. The ultimate goal of this banding and monitoring project is to understand the causes of their declines.
In 2017, a total of 14 individual shrikes were trapped, fitted with leg bands, and released. This project has largely taken place in the western part of the state, but last year the project was expanded to two sites in the Piedmont of Virginia, where shrikes are much scarcer. These captures and monitoring will provide valuable new information on the status of these birds in the southcentral part of the state.
Forty-five individual shrikes have been banded since the project’s inception in December of 2014, including wintering and breeding adults, and juveniles fledged from the nest. Of these birds, 13 (9 males and 4 females) have so far been re-sighted by project personnel and by birders. Unique combinations of color bands on the birds’ legs allow for identification of individuals using binoculars, spotting scopes or high-resolution cameras. These observations have given us some initial insight into the seasonal movements of shrikes. Some birds appear to be residents that are present year around, while others have only been detected during winters or breeding seasons.
How you can help DGIF’s Loggerhead Shrike efforts
- If you see a loggerhead shrike, look for bands! Please report your shrike observations, both banded and unbanded, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Photographs are a plus. Please keep in mind that mockingbirds can be mistaken for shrikes, as the two can appear similar when seen from a distance. Look for the loggerhead shrike’s big chunky head, heavy black bill and thick black mask to help distinguish the two species.
If you want to head out shriking, in Virginia they are currently concentrated west of the Blue Ridge, with some small pockets occurring in the Piedmont. Loggerhead shrikes can be found perched along fences, utility lines, or natural vegetation in open pastures with scattered shrubs or vegetated fencerows. Shrikes can be difficult to detect as they don’t vocalize as often as other songbirds, so patience and keen observation skills are a must!
- Please consider participating in the 2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas. Loggerhead shrikes are one of many bird species that we are trying to learn more about through this important citizen science project supporting bird conservation. Go to vabba2.org for details, including contact information of folks who can help get you started.
- Consider making a donation to Virginia’s Non-game Wildlife Fund, which supports DGIF’s efforts toward conserving Loggerhead Shrikes and other Virginia Species of Greatest Conservation Need.