Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rusty Blackbirds

I was lucky enough to find a group of Rusty Blackbirds that have been roaming the swamp at the landfill for over a week. I originally came upon them thinking they were a mixture of Red-winged Blackbirds and Grackles. So I did my job and turned on the starling distress call that plays over speakers on top of the truck. Usually birds fly away when they hear the call but instead the birds came to me, and to my surprise they weren't Red-wings or Grackles, instead what I found was a flock of around 50 Rusty Blackbirds. Below is a picture of them coming to investigate the distress call.

Rusty Blackbirds are not as common as they used to be with some estimates showing their population declining 98% over the past 40 years! Clearly that is an alarming collapse of the population. It is yet unknown what the cause of the decline may be, however many suspect it is due to habitat loss. Rusty Blackbirds favor wooded swamps both in their nesting and wintering grounds. The habitat they are using at the landfill is a large patch of swamp, maybe as large as 50 acres, that appears to be flooded hardwood forest. There are many tall trees standing that are dead and around them younger species such as cottonwoods and willows that are growing in shallow areas and around the perimeter. There is also a great deal of cattails mixed in as well.

The population decline has not gone unnoticed. Recently a citizen science effort has been under way to help scientist better study Rusty Blackbirds in their wintering territory. The Rusty Blackbird Blitz is an attempt to map where Rusty Blackbirds are spending the winter and the concentration of birds in their winter roosts. Any user of eBird can participate between January 30th and February 15th. You can do your part in helping to understand the Rusty Blackbird decline by participating and also by submitting your findings on Rusty Blackbirds to eBird year round. They really are beautiful birds and we should all do as much as we can to help scientist discover what is causing the decline so Rusty Blackbirds do not become a species of the past.


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