Are Rusty Blackbirds Different?

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Are Rusty Blackbirds Any Different from Other Blackbirds?

By Charles L Harmon

The rusty blackbird is a relatively rare blackbird species that breeds primarily in the swamps of North America, particularly Alaska and Canada. There is considerable interest in this particular type of bird these days because of its rapidly decreasing population. According to studies, the number of rusty blackbirds in existence has dropped tremendously, starting from the mid-1960s.

Getting to Know the Rusty Blackbirds

Identifying an adult rusty blackbird is not very difficult because it has quite a number of distinguishing characteristics. Both male and female adults are considered to be medium-sized songbirds whose twittering can be quite melodic and pleasing to the ears. They have relatively long tails, narrow and pointed beaks, and shiny black feathers and bright yellow eyes.

You can tell the males from the females from the blue crowns on their heads. The females in turn have lighter gray faces and chests. As the cold season approaches, these birds get rust-colored feather edgings, hence their name.

Mating for rusty blackbirds is typically done in the summer. During this time, groups of rusty blackbirds would congregate in the swampy woods of Canada and Alaska. They stay in these areas until late December and once winter starts to set in, they migrate to warmer areas along the eastern coast of the United States.

However, rusty blackbirds still tend to stay close to rivers and other areas that are near the water, and immediately go back to their regular habitat when spring begins. Rusty blackbirds mostly eat insects and small aquatic creatures like crustaceans, mollusks, and fishes. However, if there is a shortage of these delicacies, they can also subsist on grains and seeds.

Similar Species

The overall appearance of rusty blackbirds is not completely unique. In fact, they are often mistaken for a few other species of blackbirds, such as the Brewer’s blackbirds. Both Brewer’s and rusty blackbirds develop the rust-colored feathers during winter. However, rusty blackbirds generally have longer tails, beaks, and legs. Furthermore, the feathers on the male Brewer’s blackbirds’ bodies are glossier and often have purple streaks, whereas the rusty blackbirds have plain black feathers.

Another species that is highly similar to the rusty blackbird is the grackle, but their similarities end with outward appearances. When it comes to behavior, the rusty blackbird is considerably bolder and more sociable than the grackle. In fact, this is probably one of the reasons why rusty blackbirds are dying out as a species. Their lack of fear allows them to go straight to the middle of crops to eat, making them more likely to get caught and killed.

Reasons for the Rusty Blackbird’s Demise

A large portion of the world’s rusty blackbird population breeds and lives in the boreal forests and swamps of Canada. The problem is that many of these areas are being reformed into residential and commercial places. In other words, as we take care of our needs, the rusty blackbirds are slowly losing their homes. In addition to this, US farmers have been taking more aggressive action against bird pests in order to protect their crops.

Unfortunately for the rusty blackbirds, although they are not technically included among these pests, the farmers’ protective measures do affect them and are contributing to their slow but steady population decline.