Rusty Blackbird Blitz!

In recent years, the population of rusty blackbirds has fallen off a cliff—biologists estimate current numbers are 85-90 percent lower than 40 years ago. As if that’s not bad enough, there’s another problem: scientists have no idea why. Some speculate it might be a “perfect storm” type of situation, where a number of factors are rapidly reducing the bird’s numbers.

We actually know surprisingly little about this species, among the most rapidly declining in North America. So, we’re staging a call to action: the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz!

Tom Benson

Photo via Tom Benson / Licensed via CC

If you’re a citizen scientist or a birder, we’re asking you to record sightings of rusties in eBird, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s excellent tool for gathering and interpreting bird data. With your help, scientists are able to compile data regarding bird sightings and analyze the migratory patterns of rusties, in order to figure out what’s causing their precipitous decline.

vlad vlitinov

Photo via Vlad Litinov / Licensed under CC

“The Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz is an exciting endeavor of the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group,” says Randy Dettmers, a Service biologist studying the bird’s behavior. “The Migration Blitz will provide new information on migration timing and migratory hot spots that will help us focus conservation efforts for this species where and when they will have the greatest impact.”

Any observation is useful—even if you couldn’t find a rusty during your state’s observation period, that information is valuable to biologists as it tells them where the rusties aren’t.

“With about half of the rusty blackbird total population estimated to breed in Quebec and Newfoundland, the Northeast plays a critical role in supporting this species during its migratory periods,” says Dettmers.

Photo via Seabrooke Leckie / Licensed under CC

Photo via Seabrooke Leckie / Licensed under CC

Make sure you’re looking at a rusty, and not another more common species, like Brewer’s blackbirds. Male rusties are black with rusty-tipped feathers, and females are gray with some rusty shades. Check out this identification guide!

Cooperation is essential to bringing important changes to the world, and here’s one way we can all contribute. So let’s get out there and get to work, together we can bring this species back from the brink!

Andy Reago

Photo via Andy Reago / Licensed under CC

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