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The rare eastern loggerhead shrike is a predatory songbird. (Nature Conservancy of Canada) An endangered songbird is getting the chance to sing another day with the help of increased protected lands.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada announced Wednesday the purchase of 31 additional hectares of conservation land near Napanee, Ont., to protect the endangered eastern loggerhead shrike.

The land purchase expands the Napanee Plain Alvar Nature Reserve, owned by the conservancy, to 121 hectares. It was made possible with funding from the federal government and private donations.

"The eastern loggerhead shrike is critically endangered," said conservancy program director Mark Stabb. "There are only about 30 pairs left. [In] Ontario, this year’s count has 17 nesting pairs and 11 of those nesting pairs are in the Napanee Limestone Plain, north of the Napanee area."

Although the shrike has lived in Quebec, it’s mostly now confined to two areas in Ontario: the Napanee Plain, where conservation efforts are underway, and the Carden Alvar Natural Area northeast of Lake Simcoe, where about a third of the population lives.

Stabb said that with protection and a captive breeding program in place, they’re hoping to at least double the shrike population. Mark Stabb, of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, said they hope to bolster the eastern loggerhead shrike population and, at the very least, double the number of birds. (Nature Conservancy of Canada) Loss of habitat

Stabb told CBC Radio’s All In A Day that habitat loss has been at the centre of the species’ decline. Grassland birds like the shrike depend on large open fields, he explained, and are dwindling because of development, subdivisions and, to some extent, changes in agricultural practices.

But, he added, the Nature Conservancy of Canada has had a lot of co-operation with farmers to help the species recover.

"In this area we’ve had decades of work with local farmers … who have both kept cattle for grazing and kept that [habitat] open for shrike, but also actively involved in helping to maintain that habitat as well," he said.

"There has been a decline, but they’re holding their own here in the Napanee Plain and I think it’s because of all this work the land owners" are doing, along with conservation efforts and volunteer work, Stabb added. ‘These birds are really cool’

The eastern loggerhead shrike is officially described as endangered, but Stabb also describes them as unique birds.

"These birds are really cool," he said. "They’re a predatory songbird. They eat other animals, basically insects, small mammals, even small birds. But they’re not a raptor. The term raptor refers to those clasping talons of the dinosaurs of the past, but also hawks, eagles, falcons."

Shrikes don’t have those kind of feet. Instead, they have strong hooked bills to kill their prey.

"They have to impale it like a shish kebab on a stick or a thorn, or even barbed wire, so they can then stand on it and pull it apart for dinner," Stabb said. Big picture

Shrikes, and grassland birds in general, are important parts of ecosystems and helping to protect the shrike plays into a bigger conservation picture.

"I would say that it’s the broader grassland bird community is really what’s at stake. They do have a role to play in keeping pest insects down … and maintaining the diversity of habitats of grassland birds means that some of the native insects are also protected, even though they’ll be eating them," he said."If you took grassland birds out of the picture there would be a big problem, I think."Other birds, like the eastern meadowlark, whippoorwill, common nighthawk and field sparrow — a number of them on the species […]

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