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Rusty Blackbird


IUCN Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Rusty Blackbird is one of North America’s most rapidly declining species. The population has plunged an estimated 85-99 percent over the past forty years and scientists are completely puzzled as to what is the cause. They are relatively uncommon denizens of wooded swamps, breeding in the boreal forest and wintering in the eastern U.S. In winter, they travel in small flocks and are identified by their distinctive rusty featheredges and pallid yellow eyes.

At a GlanceHelp

Both Sexes
8.3–9.8 in
21–25 cm
14.6 in
37 cm
1.7–2.8 oz
47–80 g
Other Names
  • Quiscale rouilleux (French)
  • (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Like most members of the blackbird family, the Rusty Blackbird undergoes only one molt per year. The change in appearance between winter and summer results from the rust-colored feather tips of "winter plumage" wearing off and leaving behind the smooth black or gray "breeding plumage."
  • The Rusty Blackbird feeds mostly on insects and plant matter, but it sometimes attacks and eats other birds. It has been documented feeding on sparrows, robins, and snipe, among others.
  • The oldest recorded Rusty Blackbird was at least 8 years, 7 months old. It was banded in Arkansas in 1931, and shot in 1939 in Mississippi.



Breeds in wet forests, including areas with fens, bogs, muskeg, and beaver ponds. Winters in swamps, wet woodlands, and pond edges.



In summer, mostly insects; in winter, acorns, pine seeds, and fruit.


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.
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.

Nest Placement



Ground Forager

Forages on ground, often in flocks. Wades in water. Flips over leaves and twigs.


status via IUCN


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 4.4% every year between 1966 and 2014, resulting in a cumulative decline of 89%. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 5 million, with 100% spending some part of the year in the U.S., and 86% breeding in Canada. The species rates a 21 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Rusty Blackbird is listed as a Common Bird in Steep Decline on the 2014 State of the Birds Report. 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 historically severe hunting of beavers across North America 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.


Range Map Help

Rusty Blackbird Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

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All About Birds Blog, Help Scientists Find Out What’s Happening to Rusty Blackbirds, March 2014.



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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