October 21st – Rusty Blackbirds are Neat!

Rusty Blackbirds are neat. We usually see a few in the Spring but look forward to seeing them in good numbers in the Fall – and for the past two weeks we have been seeing them in small flocks mixed in with much larger groupings of Red-winged Blackbirds. Whereas Red-winged Blackbirds tend to move in “loose”, strung out flocks, groupings of Rustys tend to be more compact. They are a bird associated with wet areas on both their breeding and wintering grounds: along lakes, streams, river shorelines, flooded forests, beaver ponds and muskeg. Although a few may spend the Winter in southern Ontario, the majority winter in the southeastern U.S.

Their numbers are dwindling, however. They are listed as a Species of Special Concern Nationally. Their decline is thought to be associated with a) loss of wintering habitat through the conversion of wetland forest to other uses (housing and agriculture) and b) “control” programs aimed to deter other species accused of damaging agricultural crops (Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, etc.)

On their way south in the Fall, they occasionally stop in at Ruthven to harvest some of the fruit crops but only very occasionally – we have banded only 49 since 1995 and 31 of these were in one year. Today we were in luck. There were a lot of blackbirds moving along the river throughout the day. Around noon heavy dark clouds moved in quickly, threatening rain. Many birds moved lower and started to feed in anticipation of inclement weather – including some Rusty Blackbirds. We were able to catch and band 19! They are a marvelous bird in the hand.

Banded 114:
1 Yellow-shafted Flicker
5 Black-capped Chickadees
2 Brown Creepers
9 Golden-crowned Kinglets
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
3 Hermit Thrushes
4 American Robins
11 Cedar Waxwings
2 European Starlings
8 Myrtle Warblers
1 Northern Cardinal
2 Fox Sparrows
7 Song Sparrows
16 White-throated Sparrows
4 Dark-eyed Juncos
19 Rusty Blackbirds
3 Purple Finches
1 House Finch
15 American Goldfinches

Retrapped 30:
2 Mourning Doves
1 Downy Woodpecker
1 Eastern Tufted Titmouse
3 Black-capped Chickadees
2 White-breasted Nuthatches
1 Brown Creeper
1 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
3 Hermit Thrushes
1 Chipping Sparrow
1 Song Sparrow
2 White-throated Sparrows
9 Dark-eyed Juncos
3 American Goldfinches

ET’s: 39 spp.

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