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March 15, 2014 / Leslie

Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz

Citizen Scientists Needed

Rusty Blackbirds are one of the most sharply declining songbirds in North America. Their population is in decline with an estimated 85 to 95 percent lost in the last half-century. Scientists are unsure why this is happening. In an effort to solve this mystery they have formed an International Rusty Blackbird Working Group. Birders can help by participating in the Spring Migration Blitz and report sighting of the elusive Rusty Blackbird on eBird.

Rusty Blackbird in Decline

The Rusty Blackbird is a relatively uncommon bird that can be found in wooded swamplands. They breed in the boreal forests of Canada and winter in the eastern US. Their migratory range is from the southern United States, through the Midwest and along the East Coast, and up into Canada. The focus of the blitz is to track Rusty Blackbirds from their wintering grounds throughout their entire migratory journey.

Rusty Blackbird

I’ll be taking part in the migration blitz. The few times I have seen Rusty Blackbirds it has been during migration. Several years ago I discovered a small group of them at a tiny marshy pond within walking distance of my house. They return about the same time every year and stay for a few days – a sort of rest stop on their journey home. I will be monitoring that area for the next month.

Rusty Blackbird

Identifying the Rusty

Rusty Blackbirds will sometimes flock with the common Red-winged Blackbird but on closer inspection, look quite different. The most striking difference is the yellow eyes of Rusty Blackbird. Also, they are a bit larger and longer-tailed and have a more slender bill. They will also flock with Grackles who have the same yellow eyes, but Grackles are a larger, glossy-black colored bird with a thicker bill.


In the photo above, the bird in the middle is a female Red-Winged Blackbird. The birds on either end are Rusty Blackbirds. Click the photo for larger image and you can see the eye color and beak size.

Facts about Rusty Blackbirds from Cornell:

  • Look for them in wet woodlands
  • Listen for their distinctive “rusty hinge” song
  • They may flock with Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles
  • They are small blackbirds with bright yellow eyes and small bills
  • They winter mainly in the southeastern U.S., breed mainly in Canada and Alaska.


Saturday Snapshot was originated by Alyce at At Home With Books. It is now hosted by Melinda of West Metro Mommy. Visit her blog to see more great photos or add your own.

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Leave a Comment
  1. irene / Mar 15 2014 11:22 am

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen one here. but I’ll keep a watch out, we do see a fair bit of the redwing blackbirds.


  2. Ginny / Mar 15 2014 11:59 am

    Every week I learn something new from your blog. Not heard of the Rusty Blackbird before.


  3. Sue / Mar 15 2014 12:30 pm

    Great photos of the non breeding plumage. I don’t think I have seen these birds on migration through MN, but now I know what to look for if they migrate through MN.


  4. Suko / Mar 15 2014 6:25 pm

    Leslie, I love love love these photos, and the lesson about Rusty Blackbirds. I am curious about the “rusty hinge” song. I enjoy the sounds and singing of birds so much!


  5. BermudaOnion / Mar 15 2014 6:54 pm

    I hope you spot some!


  6. Peggy@Peggy Ann's Postp / Mar 15 2014 7:21 pm

    Thanks so much! Beautiful birds. Learned a lot!


  7. Melinda / Mar 15 2014 9:47 pm

    Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these!


  8. susanmillerlindquist / Mar 16 2014 7:13 am

    I’ll keep my eyes peeled … we have wetland all around us that are habitat to red-wings … maybe we’ll see the rusties passing through!


  9. readerbuzz / Mar 16 2014 2:40 pm

    We live in one of the best areas for birding (or so they tell us) here along the Texas Gulf Coast. I wish I knew more about birds.


  10. Louise / Mar 16 2014 10:04 pm

    How fabulous to be part of such an event, but how terrible that it needs to occur. Thanks for the photos and the bird lesson- I always learn so much from you. I’m hoping to see some new birds this week….


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