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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.

Keys to identification Help

Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Rusty Blackbird is a medium-sized blackbird with a slender bill and medium-length tail. The bill is slightly decurved. They are a bit larger and longer-tailed than Red-winged Blackbird with a more slender bill. Rusty Blackbird is thinner-billed and shorter-tailed than Common Grackle.

  • Color Pattern

    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.

  • Behavior

    Rusty Blackbirds are often gather in small flocks in winter, sometimes mix with Common Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds and European Starlings. They feed on the ground by walking and flipping over leaves and debris. They tend to hold their long tail up when feeding on the ground, which can help pick them out in a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds. Flocks often perch at the tops of trees. Rusty Blackbirds frequently give a distinctive bubbly call, kurlulr-teEE, often ending on a high-pitched rising note.

  • Habitat

    Look for Rusty Blackbirds in wet areas, including flooded woods, swamps, marshes and the edges of ponds. These moist habitats are their favorite foraging areas in winter and during migration. During the breeding season, they favor bogs, beaver ponds and wet woods in boreal forest.

Range Map Help

Rusty Blackbird Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Female nonbreeding

    Rusty Blackbird

    Female nonbreeding
    • Buffy breast and eyebrow
    • Rusty on back and crown
    • Dark feathers around pale eye
    • © Roger Garber, October 2010
  • Adult male

    Rusty Blackbird

    Adult male
    • Dark glossy overall
    • Most of rusty feathers edges have worn off by spring
    • © Robin Arnold, Port Clinton, Ohio, April 2010
  • Male nonbreeding

    Rusty Blackbird

    Male nonbreeding
    • Extensive rusty feather tips on head, breast and back
    • Breast and head darker than nonbreeding female
    • © Stuart Oikawa, Fort Whyte, Manitoba, Canada, November 2010
  • Adult male

    Rusty Blackbird

    Adult male
    • By spring only some rusty feather edges remain
    • © Dave Blinder, Hanover, New Jersey, April 2010
  • Nonbreeding flock

    Rusty Blackbird

    Nonbreeding flock
    • Females lighter overall than male (middle)
    • Show rusty feather edges in fall, winter, spring
    • © JMK Birder, Tolland, Connecticut, December 2010

Similar Species

Similar Species

Males and females have yellow eyes year-round, similar to Common Grackle and male Brewer's Blackbirds. Brewer's Blackbird, however, has longer legs and longer tail. In fall and winter, male Brewer's Blackbird shows less rusty feather edging. Breeding male Brewer's Blackbird is glossier, with a purplish cast on the head and breast, contrasting with a green cast on back and wings. Female Brewer's Blackbird has dark eyes and is brownish gray rather than slate-gray. Beware, female Brewer's occasionally have pale eyes. Brewer's Blackbirds also favors open areas, agricultural lands and suburban areas, while Rusty Blackbirds prefer wooded swamps.

Common Grackle is larger overall with a thicker bill and a longer, wedge-shaped tail. Rusty Blackbirds have a square-tipped tail and are more slender overall.

Red-winged Blackbird and Brown-headed Cowbird are more compact. They have dark eyes, shorter and stouter bills, and shorter tails.

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



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