Rusty Blackbird Survey

I saw a small flock of Rusty Blackbirds (for the first time in at least 5 years) on the lawn of my office building a few weeks ago. I flex late at work, so it was probably 6pm or so. I was waiting to pull into traffic and noticed them with a plethora of Robins (what is the collective noun for a load of Robins? But, I digress.) It was hard to miss that beady yellow eye. I was thrilled so see them again.Then last night I learned that there is a survey going on to try to understand what is happening with their population. What, you didn’t know there was a problem? Well, I didn’t know either. Or at least I didn’t know there was THIS kind of problem.

Rusty Blackbirds have experienced a dramatic decrease in numbers in the past several decades, with population declines estimated at 88% to 98% since the Breeding Bird Survey began in the 1960s!

Scientists are working to understand why this blackbird has plummeted in numbers, but they need our help. We are asked to submit our observations of Rusty Blackbirds throughout spring migration to eBird, and are especially urged to participate in a special Rusty Blackbird project from April 1 to 7. So, next week, researchers want us to submit information about habitat use, blackbird behavior, and flock size as part of their eBird reports, so that bird conservationists can gain a better understanding of preferred migratory habitats and how migratory habitat loss might be contributing to population declines.

If all goes well they can better tailor the survey for fall migration, and possibly do some target outreach during winter as
well. To learn more about Rusty Blackbirds and this special eBird tracking project. Click there.

Now let’s get out and find some Rusty Blackbirds.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Rusty Blackbird Survey

  1. Thanks for bringing attention to this important conservation issue. Rusties need our help!

  2. Pingback: Rusty Blackbird Survey « Eat more cookies

  3. Marie

    I’m game, they are all black right? Or are they still rusty now?

  4. I think they should be all black now. The ones I saw last week were black. They can be confusing if they are with other blackbirds especially if you are out west because they are similar to the Brewer’s. Good Luck!

  5. djbrown

    I’m in. Will be out and counting!

  6. Bill up the Hill

    Being a birder, as you are, I’m certain you’ve spent some time over at the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge over in Vernon. Well, I pulled a permit for that 5,000 acre patch of land this winter to do some deer hunting and while we only took one doe, last week something really phenomenal happened that I want to tell you about. It was shortly after sunrise and I was sitting on a log quietly listening and watching for sound or movement and trying to look inconspicuous in my blaze orange vest and hat. I was posted in the middle of a wooded mound that separated two large fields of cut hay. My buddy was about 100 yards away to the south. It started as just a strange background noise like the sound of something moving through tall grass or maybe like the wind through the leaves. It was a constant whitish pink noise emanating from the river behind me and growing in volume to the point of becoming a distraction. I turned to face the sound, but could see nothing. Just then my buddy radioed over to me asking if I knew what that sound was. As I was about to tell him that I’d been wondering the same thing when I saw it and all I could say was “Oh my God!”

    At first I didn’t know what I was staring at because it was so immense. The giant whooshing sound I had been hearing for the last 15 minutes was being made by a huge cloud of black birds that were heading directly for me. Now, I’ve seen flocks of birds before, but this was nothing like I’d ever seen. It literally blotted out the sun and darkened the sky. I’d say this mass of black feathers had to be a quarter of a mile in diameter and flying at an altitude of about 100 feet…just above the tree tops. At first I thought they might be locusts and it completely freaked me out, but although I soon realize that they were birds, I was no lest concerned because I had never seen so many in one place in my entire life and they were bearing right down on my position. I felt like Tippy Hedron in a scene from “The Birds”. As the cloud passed over me the noise was deafening. What started out as a distant whooshing sound was now more like a freight train passing by. The birds weren’t chirping at all, so the sound they produced was generated from the beating of their wings. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen while afield and I’ll never forget it. When I recount the story for friends it just doesn’t do it justice. They’re like…”OK, you saw a flock of birds. That’s great!” No, this was no ordinary flock, there were hundreds of thousands if not millions of them. I didn’t get a really close up look at one, but my guess would be that they were Starlings. I don’t know of any other bird that’s that size and color that is indigenous to these parts. Of course, they could have been migrating through, but this was mid January and I thought most of the migrations were pretty much completed now. Anyway, I thought I’d mention it to you since you know so much about birds. I thought perhaps you could tell me a little more about what we experienced. The whole flock landed in the trees surrounding my buddy’s position and he said it was like the barren woods had suddenly come into full foliage.

  7. Brian

    Bill, dude.

    Great story. That sort of thing never happens when I’m in a tree.

  8. The other guy with Bill

    That was the most amazing thing I have ever seen in the woods
    It was truly incredible

  9. I have not seen a single Rusty despite looking in likely spots nearby. There was a brief flurry of excitement when I saw a large flock of blackbirds that included several smaller cousins. But alas, they were cowbirds among the grackles. Sad isn’t it.

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