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Rusty Blackbird Life History


ForestsBreeds in wet forests, including areas with fens, bogs, muskeg, and beaver ponds. Winters in swamps, wet woodlands, and pond edges.Back to top


InsectsIn summer, mostly insects; in winter, acorns, pine seeds, and fruit.Back to top


Nest Placement


Nest Description

Bulky bowl with an outer layer of twigs, grass, and lichens. Wet, rotting plant matter is placed in this outer layer, then dries and hardens. Placed in trees and shrubs, near water.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-6 eggs
Egg Description:Blue-green to pale gray, with variable amount of brown markings.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless with sparse down.
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Ground ForagerForages on ground, often in flocks. Wades in water. Flips over leaves and twigs.Back to top


Common Bird in Steep Decline

The Rusty Blackbird has undergone one of the sharpest and most mystifying recent declines of any North American songbird. The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimates that populations declined by nearly 3% every year, resulting in a cumulative decline of approximately 75% between 1966 and 2019. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 6.8 million and rates them 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of relatively low conservation concern. However, Rusty Blackbird is listed as a Common Birds in Steep Decline for species that are still too numerous or widely distributed to warrant Watch-List status but have been experiencing troubling long-term declines. If these declines continue, the population will be halved again in less than 20 years. Low densities and remote breeding habitat (in the boreal forests of the far north) make clear determination of trends difficult. Scientists have formed the Rusty Blackbird Working Group, which tries to get a better handle on populations by organizing birders to look for and report Rusty Blackbirds during specific dates during the year, particularly spring migration. It's not clear what has caused the population declines, but loss of wet woodland habitat through drainage, clearcutting, and conversion to agriculture is a possibility—particularly in the southeastern U.S. where some 80 percent of the population winters. The severe hunting of beavers across North America for hundreds of years may also have reduced habitat for Rusty Blackbirds by reducing the number of beaver ponds; the resurgence of beaver populations may be restoring some of this habitat. Rusty Blackbirds from northeastern North America have been recorded with unusually high mercury contamination and could be contributing to their decline in this region.

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Avery, Michael L. (2013). Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Rosenberg, K.V., J. A. Kennedy, R. Dettmers, R. P. Ford, D. Reynolds, J. D. Alexander, C. J. Beardmore, P. J. Blancher, R. E. Bogart, G. S. Butcher, A. F. Camfield, A. Couturier, D. W. Demarest, W. E. Easton, J. J. Giocomo, R. H. Keller, A. E. Mini, A. O. Panjabi, D. N. Pashley, T. D. Rich, J. M. Ruth, H. Stabins, J. Stanton, and T. Will. 2016. Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan: 2016 Revision for Canada and Continental United States. Partners in Flight Science Committee.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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