Hey guys, welcome back! So, if you read my last post, you may remember I said I didn’t have a picture of a Rusty Blackbird. Sad, I know. “But wait a minute,” you’re saying to yourself right now, “I see pictures of Rusty Blackbirds in this post!” This is true. So, I typically write these posts ahead of time (as I’m sure plenty of people do), and when I wrote the last post, I didn’t have any Rusty Blackbird pics. So, I went birding. Winter is actually a good time to find Rusty Blackbirds, and eBird told me that January is a good month for Forest Park specifically. Now, for whatever reason, I was fixated on trying to find one amongst a flock of blackbirds. See, in winter it’s common for blackbirds to travel in large flocks, often with different species mixed. Usually it’s Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds, but occasionally you’ll find some Brown-headed Cowbirds, Rusty Blackbirds or (depending on the part of the country) Brewer’s Blackbirds mixed in. Now I don’t know why I was fixated on looking for my photogenic Rusty this way, considering every rusty I had seen prior has been in a woodland with muddy areas (the Rusty Blackbird’s favorite habitat.)
So today, I’m walking through Kennedy Forest in Forest Park, here in St. Louis, when I came upon some Carolina Chickadees. Then, not far away, I saw a blackbird fly into a tree. I thought to myself “why is there only one grackle?” since usually grackles travel in groups. I lifted my binoculars and was shocked. There it was! The Rusty Blackbird I’ve been searching for! And it stayed put for a while and let me get as good a picture as possible.
So that’s great, and I was definitely excited. But how did I know it was a Rusty Blackbird? After all, they look very much like other blackbird species. Well winter is actually the best time to ID one. Males in their non-breeding plumage are black with “rusty” colored splotches, hence the name. Other ID keys include the pale yellow eye, thinner bill than it’s close relatives like the Red-winged and Brewer’s Blackbirds, and lastly habitat. The Brewer’s Blackbird is probably the closest in looks to the rusty, but they are seldom found in forests with mudflats like the Rusty prefers.
When I worked in Central Park, birders always got excited when a Rusty showed up. They may not look like much, but the Rusty Blackbird is one of the most rapidly declining bird species, with scientists completely baffled as to the reason. Some estimates have the population declining as much as 99 percent over the last 40 years! So, when and if you do see one of these birds, stop for a second and admire it. They may not be around much longer. That’ll wrap it up for today. Join me next time as we kick off water bird February! Canada Goose, up next!