Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn Bird Watch: August 2

Rusty Blackbird. Scientific name: Euphagus carolinus

August 2, 2021 By Joseph Palmer
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Today we are featuring Heather Wolf’s photo of a Rusty Blackbird standing in the grass of Brooklyn Bridge Park. Regretfully the Rusty Blackbird’s overall “vulnerability status” is high. If one looks at the Audubon Range map you will see that about 67 percent of the species’ Northern range has been lost. The population has plunged an estimated 85-99 percent over the past forty years. Scientists are not sure why yet. I would certainly say that with the amount of blackbirds and grackles we see on the West Coast of Central Florida, those statistics were shocking. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife even has a “Rusty Blackbird Working Group” to help study the species that was basically ignored until the mid-1990s, when it became evident they were declining dramatically.  Professional bird people and scientists have nicknamed this bird “Rusties.” The Brewer’s Blackbird and Common Grackle are the most likely species to be confused with “Rusties.”

Female Rusty Blackbird. Photo by Joseph Palmer.

Around here in Central Florida we often see flocks of Crows and Blackbirds congregate next to each other on the overhead electric wires where they just seem to sit there for no apparent reason, and then suddenly, also for no apparent reason, they will all fly away at the same time and fill the immediate sky. And we are thankful that the Hitchcock movie “The Birds” was just that, something imagined in a movie.

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The Cornell Lab says in winter male Rusty Blackbirds are recognized by their rusty feather edges, pale yellow eye and buffy eyebrow. Females are gray-brown; they also have rusty feather edges, pale eyes and a bold eyebrow, contrasting with darker feathers right around the eye. Breeding males are dark glossy black. 

They are a bit larger and longer-tailed than Red-winged Blackbirds with a more slender bill and the Rusty Blackbird is thinner-billed and shorter-tailed than the Common Grackle.

I know from keeping an eye on the bird feeder I built that the blackbirds and grackles can be pretty aggressive, although Blue Jays, also aggressive and smart, are not afraid of the blackbirds.

Male Rusty Blackbird. Photo by Joseph Palmer.

Audubon points out, birders might jokingly say this blackbird is rusty because it spends so much time in the water. In migration and winter it can often be seen in swampy places, wading in very shallow water at the edges of wooded streams. In summer it retires to northern spruce bogs; no other blackbird has such a northerly breeding distribution. 

The Cornell Lab describes the “song” of the Rusty Blackbirds as “a distinctive bubbly call, kurlulr-teEE, often ending on a high-pitched rising note.”  Although the name “Rusty” applies to the colors of the fall birds, if one has ever heard the Rusty Blackbird you will agree, even if you cannot mimic or imagine the written sound, the Rusty Blackbird does sound exactly like a rusty hinge. 

I took some shots of the blackbirds that visited my birdfeeder, and one can definitely see the difference in the solid black male and the more brownish female as described by the Cornell Lab, and the females aggressive looking reaction to a visitor.  


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