The Lesser Grey Shrike – “technically extinct” in Spain

Extinction is not a nice thing

2023: The Lesser Grey Shrike is technically extinct in Lleida, Catalonia, and therefore in all of Spain.

Lesser Grey Shrike

Lesser Grey Shrike – image taken from the Atlas of Breeding Birds in Catalonia 1999-2002

This year no adult bird returned to the hitherto last remaining breeding site in Spain – on the edge of the city of Lleida in Catalonia – from its lengthy northward migration from its wintering quarters in the Kalahari.

Nevertheless, numerous captive bred birds were still released as juveniles, as part of the ongoing captive breeding scheme which has been taking place here since 2007.

However, with nothing other than instinct to lead them on their migrations; with no adult birds to follow, emulate or to compete with; and with modern-day factors giving rise to declines in both breeding areas and wintering sites, what chance do the newly-released juveniles have of re-establishing a sustainable breeding population?

Maybe the time has come to throw in the towel. What do you think?

Here’s a brief reverse chronology of the Lesser Grey Shrike’s decline in Spain in the last couple of decades.

2023: No returning adult, captive-bred juveniles released

2022: A single adult returned

2020: A total of 13 birds returned to the site near Lleida. 15 free-flying chicks hatched in Lleida from 4 breeding pairs. 10 of these fledged successfully.  74 chicks were bred in captivity.

2019: A total of 5 birds returned. A single breeding pair fledged 3 young.

2018: 0 -1 breeding pairs detected.

2015: 7 birds returned, 4 of these were captive-bred birds released the previous year. No free-flying chicks fledged. A record 102 captive-bred birds were released. Geolocators were attached to 34 birds.

2010: The species becomes extinct in the neighbouring province of Huesca.

2009: Captive-bred birds are released for the first time.

2007: The captive breeding programme was initiated.

2002: The breeding population of Empordà in the province of Girona becomes extinct.

1999: A previously-undiscovered population of breeding birds is discovered in the course of the fieldwork for the Catalan Breeding Bird Atlas 1999-2002. This site, on the outskirts of Lleida city, will become the last remaining site for the species in the whole of Spain in little more than a decade.

1980’s: Approximately 40 breeding pairs present in northeast Spain

Distribution of Lesser Grey Shrike in Catalonia in 1999-2002

Lesser Grey Shrike, Catalonia, 1999-2002

The reasons for this decline are attributed to climate change affecting rainfall patterns in the species’ wintering area; agricultural intensification and loss of habitat in its breeding quarters; insecticides; trapping in mistnets along its migration route; and heavy egg and chick predation by the Magpie.

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