Rusty not your average blackbird

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Rusty blackbird
PHOTO: Ann Brokelman

At the end of October I received a photo from my friends Bruce Girard and Sue McKay, who had seen a bird and wondered what it was. This has become an increasingly common occurrence in my life, now that for many of my friends I’m no longer Ann, but rather ‘the hawk lady’.

This particular sighting happened while Bruce was biking at the Leslie Street Spit. He was enjoying the remaining wildflowers when he saw a blackbird with striking yellow eyes. Knowing enough about birds to realize this one was different, he took a photo and sent it my way. My interest was immediately piqued when I realized he had spotted a rusty blackbird (Euphagus carolinus).

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Rusty blackbird
PHOTO: Ann Brokelman

When I received his photo I’d only ever seen one in person on two occasions. The next day I took a drive to the spit hoping to see a rusty blackbird. I was in for a bit of a treat – by the end of the day I’d counted more than 70 of them!

Many people, including myself for the longest time, mistake them for red-winged blackbirds, with whom they commonly mingle. I think at one point I had taken over 50 photos of a female red-winged blackbird before I realized it wasn’t a rusty! What struck me the most about them were their eyes – a bright and brilliant yellow. I saw most of them feasting in marshland, just like the red-winged blackbirds. They would swoop in, stay for mere moments, and then just as quickly disappear.

The next day I went back and saw another 20 to 30 rusty blackbirds on the path and in the lower tree branches. I enjoyed the view and took dozens of wonderful photos of these beautiful birds (and didn’t need to worry about falling into the marsh this time).

Charlotte England is a bird bander at Tommy Thompson Park bird research station. In her words, “They look like such tough birds, like bandits! … the thing that struck me the most was their amazing, rich colour and light eyes. Stunning birds!”

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Rusty blackbird
PHOTO: Charlotte England

The rusty blackbird is a medium-sized songbird, with yellow eyes, a thin black bill and long, pointed wings. They spend the majority of their time along lakes, streams, river shorelines, wetlands, flooded forests and beaver ponds. Next time you see a blackbird take a closer look, as you may be seeing a rusty blackbird.

On a much sadder note, the rusty blackbird is listed as a species of special concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. The rusty blackbird may be the most rapidly declining land bird in North America. Three factors – severe habitat loss, climate change and pollution – are causing their declining numbers.

 

Ann Brokelman is an avid birder and nature photographer. See more of her photos at naturephotosbyann.blogspot.ca.


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4 comments

Another interesting article Ann, of course, accompanied with wonderful images!
I had no idea that these birds are on the list of “special concern”.
Thank you for sharing this information with us!
Kindest regards,
Bev

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