Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus Carolinus)
Length: 9 in
Wing span: 14 in
Weight: 60 g
The song is an unmusical, harsh, metallic hiss or gurgle. The call is a very harsh, toneless, dry 'chek'. Actually two songs are discernible; one is a gurgling sound, another is a song referred to as the 'rusty gate' song because of its resemblance to the opening of a rusty gate. They can be given separately (as in the Spencer recording below) or blended together (as in the Hynes recording below).
(Recordings from xeno-canto.org. Spectrographs generated in Audacity)
Rusty Blackbirds undergo one molt per year. The difference in appearance between the summer and winter seasons results from the rusty feather edges in the winter plumage wearing off to produce the black plumage seen in breeding birds.
Male: A medium-sized bird with slender, slightly decurved bill and medium length tail. In winter the bird has rusty feather edges, pale yellow eyes and buffy eyebrow. Breeding males are dark, glossy black. The difference in appearance between seasons is due to wear along the feather edges; from rusty to black.
Female: In winter are more gray-brown than males and with a bold eyebrow. Breeding females are more gray than black with faint, scaling and paler throat and dark eyepatch.
Immature: The juvenile resembles a winter female.
Rusty Blackbirds are most closely related to Brewer's Blackbirds.
Rusty Blackbirds prefer bogs, beaver ponds and other wet areas in their breeding areas in the boreal forest. They seek wet habitats during their migration and on the wintering grounds. Wet habitats such as flooded woods, swamps and edges of ponds are preferred, although they will join flocks of other blackbirds and starlings on agricultural lands in winter.
Foods & Foraging
Rusty Blackbirds feed primarily on insects, such as caddisflies, dragonflies, mayflies, aquatic beetles and snails on the breeding grounds. During winter they will consume acorns, pine seeds, and other plant matter. Rusty Blackbirds are ground feeders; walking and flipping over leaves and twigs in shallow waters. They will hold their tail up while feeding and this helps identify them when they occur in mixed flocks, especially feeding with other blackbirds on agricultural land.
The Rusty Blackbird breeds from Alaska across northern Canada to southern Canada, northern New York and northern New England. It spends winter from eastern Nebraska to southern New England south to the Gulf Coast.
Most Rusty Blackbirds tend to migrate through our area in both spring and fall, but some will winter here as well. On occasion you can see them at bird feeders.
Locations to find the Rusty Blackbird in our area include, but not limited to: Eagle Slough, Bluegrass FWA, Cane Ridge WMA, Hovey Lake FWA, Southern Vanderburgh Co. Bottoms.
Click here to see how the range of the Rusty Blackbird could be reshaped due to climate change.
The Rusty Blackbird has the dubious distinction of being the most rapidly declining species in North America; in the past 40 years the population has declined by 85-99%. Partners-in-Flight lists the global population at approximately 5 million birds. Reasons for the steep decline are not well known because the bird breeds in the boreal forest where it is difficult to census the breeding birds. Loss of habitat in the breeding grounds and especially in the wintering areas (> 80% habitat loss) have been suggested as reasons for declines.
Scientists have formed the Rusty Blackbird Working Group to learn more about the Rusty Blackbird in order to formulate a conservation and management strategy for their recovery. They sponsor spring migration counts to get a handle on population trends.
The Rusty Blackbird is on several watch lists and ICUN lists them as vulnerable:
Rusty Blackbird: Vulnerable
Vulnerable category includes birds that are at a high risk of becoming endangered.