What does it take to rebuild a depleted species with birds bred in captivity? In the case of one of the longest-running breeding projects, it can take decades of patience and persistence – and hundreds of chicks added to the wild for every one that will go on to thrive.
Our stories in the Washington Post on the rescue mission of the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow prompted a call from the research project that has been working for more than 20 years to save the Loggerhead Shrike in eastern Canada. Researchers there have valuable perspective on the laborious process of captive breeding.
“In our case, it’s years in the making,’’ said Jane Hudecki, coordinator for the Shrike conservation breeding program with Wildlife Preservation Canada. “It can be a tough field to work in.’’
Added Hazel Wheeler, the lead biologist on the project: “I’ve certainly read a lot of papers that speak to the long-term investment needed for a successful recovery program.”
There are a number of parallels between the shrike project and the mission to save the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, which just had its first hatchings produced by captive birds in the wild. While both programs have figured out how to raise, release and establish mating pairs, questions loom around what it will take to restore the wild populations to strength.
Wildlife Preservation Canada has released 1,300 Loggerhead Shrikes since the recovery program’s formation in 1998. Still, only about 20 breeding pairs remain in the areas of Ontario where the local subspecies settle for the spring and summer. “Basically, we’re just keeping the wild population stable,’’ she said.
The Canadian shrikes and Florida grasshopper sparrows are very different species, living on either end of the continent.