Rusty Blackbird populations have plummeted by over 85% in the past half century and no one knows why. Recognition of the catastrophic decline of this once-common bird eluded birders and conservation biologists until the past decade. Now a group of international investigators led by the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group plans to study this problem by collecting data during the Rusty Blackbird's spring migration.
Rusty Blackbirds breed in marshes and bogs in the boreal forests of Canada and the northern United States, including Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. Vermont is at the southeastern edge of the Rusty Blackbird's breeding grounds. During the Second Vermont Breeding Bird Survey nesting sites for this frequently overlooked bird declined in the western part of Vermont, but increased in the northeastern highlands, possibly due to increased effort directed toward finding their nests. Nonetheless, only 20 nests were recorded in the second atlas down from 26 in the first survey. In 2014, at the urging of several conservation groups Rusty Blackbirds were added to the list of Vermont's endangered species. Understanding the factors affecting Rusty Blackbirds on their breeding grounds, wintering habitat, and migration stopovers will be essential first steps toward stabilizing the population.
To study Rusty Blackbird migration the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group initiated the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz in 2014 in cooperation with eBird, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies. To begin the group assigned migration target dates for 38 states, 9 provinces, and 3 territories asking birders to visit likely stopover points and document their observations in eBird. For Vermont the target dates are March 15 through the end of April. In 2014, its inaugural year, 4570 birders submitted 13,400 checklists to eBird with Rusty Blackbird data, a huge success. In 2015 4885 birders submitted 13919 checklists. This study will be repeated for one more year in 2016.
For more information about this project and tips to help you identify Rusty Blackbirds visit the Rusty Blackbird Working Group website at:
Let's get out there and find those birds! Every Rusty Blackbird counts.