Birding Notes

Reflections on birds and other wildlife on the edge of a southern woodland

Monday, February 01, 2010

Rusty Blackbird Blitz

“A species that was once considered abundant is rapidly disappearing before our eyes.” (eBird)*

Feeding in the grass with some of the Robins were a relatively small flock of Red-winged Blackbirds, and among them, I’m fairly sure there were some Rusty Blackbirds, but I couldn’t ever get close enough to be certain. As I approached, the flock always flushed up and flew a little further away or into the trees. There were several birds with bright yellow eyes that did not seem to be Grackles, so I think they must have been Rusties – and when they flew, they flew together and made rather soft chuck calls, not the harsher calls of a Grackle, and seemed to have the shape of Rusty Blackbirds – well, if I were a more confident observer I would have no doubt. But I just don’t trust myself. So I’m hoping they might be around again tomorrow and maybe I can get a better look. The past few winters a fairly good number of Rusty Blackbirds have been regular visitors here, but this is the first time I’ve seen them this season.

At this time of year, male Rusty Blackbirds are black with rusty speckling, or feathered edges, and striking pale yellow eyes. The rusty speckling, however, is sometimes not easy to see, especially at a distance. They often flock with Grackles or Red-winged Blackbirds, but are smaller than Grackles, with thin bills and long, club-shaped tails – but not as long as the Grackles’ tails. The females are particularly attractive in winter plumage, in muted shades of brown, from rust and cinnamon to grayish-fawn, with a dark streak through the eye and a tawny stripe over the eye.

Right now we’re in the middle of the 2010 Rusty Blackbird Blitz – a two-week period January 30 through February 15, when birdwatchers are encouraged to report observations of Rusty Blackbirds to help compile information about their population numbers and status.

Populations of Rusty Blackbirds have declined dramatically in the past few decades, falling by more than 90 percent. “A species that was once considered to be abundant is rapidly disappearing before our eyes,” says the eBird website. “Your observations can help save this species by arming scientists with critical information about its ecology.”

* For more information about Rusty Blackbirds and how to participate in the Blitz, see the eBird website.


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