- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

FRONT ROYAL, Va. (AP) - Researchers at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute are studying the loggerhead shrike to determine why the songbird’s population is declining.

Peer review literature has reported the songbird’s population has declined about 70 percent over the past 50 to 60 years, Warren Lynch, head of the institute’s bird programs, told The Northern Virginia Daily (https://bit.ly/1I9dXmy ).

The loggerhead shrike, known as “the butcher bird” because it impales its prey, was once abundant in Canada, much of New England, Virginia and parts of the United States.

“Habitat is always a big front-runner with most species that are declining,” Lynch said. “That’s kind of where we want to focus first, before expanding to other areas.”

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources also are participating in the study.

“We’ve been going out and doing field surveys with them, collecting feather samples from the birds, banding birds,” he said.

Lynch said researchers also are monitoring 10 loggerhead shrikes that recently hatched. The young birds will be transported to the Toronto Zoo in Canada for a reintroduction program.

Researchers are keeping an eye on avian flu, which could restrict transport of the birds if it becomes a concern in Virginia.

“Luckily, it is not a problem in Virginia yet, although it could be in the near future. We’re hoping to pull this off before there’s any concern with that,” Lynch said.

“It depends on what Canada requires for us to bring those birds across the border,” Lynch said.

Any birds that are reintroduced will be banded so researchers can obtain information on their location preference, migratory patterns, breeding grounds and mortality.

Researchers hope to do releases of loggerhead shrikes in Virginia but any reintroduction program would be complicated, Lynch said.

“Virginia, historically and probably still, has migratory as well as resident birds,” Lynch said. “The question, ‘Which birds are actually breeding here?”

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Information from: Northern Virginia Daily.

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