Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Decline of the Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird

Certainly not as showy as a Cerulean Warbler, the Rusty Blackbird doesn't get as much press, but it is a species also in serious decline (97% since 1966 on the North American Breeding Bird Survey). I don't know if I'll have an opportunity to watch the large blackbird flocks this year at Nine Springs, but I did have a few Rusty Blackbirds at Pheasant Branch Conservancy and even one in my backyard last week.

Mingled in massive blackbird flocks consisting primarily of grackles and red-wings, the latter possessing the most ubiquitous and melodious birdsong this time of year, are Rusty and Brewer's Blackbirds. They're easy to miss by sight, but not so much by sound. There was once a time when huge Rusty Blackbird flocks were observed. In his book Our Birds in Their Haunts, J. Hibbert Langille said, "The sombre wave, thus constantly rolling on, must have carried hundreds of thousand over this highway in a day." while observing Rusty Blackbird flocks at New York's Tonawanda Swamp.

I think they're gorgeous birds – the blackbirds – and perhaps a little under appreciated. The caustic grackles don't make it easy, but they are nonetheless loved. Like with any new arrival, the first few are warmly greeted, but when you have several dozen of them monopolizing your bird feeders, the chirpy homecoming is always short lived. I can hear myself thinking, "Don't you have a nest to build somewhere?"

Link: Decline of the Rusty Blackbird

All images © 2007 Mike McDowell

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