RUSTY BLACKBIRD – (Euphagus carolinus)
The Rusty Blackbird (or ‘Rustie’ for short) owes its English name to its fall and winter plumage, when its feathers take on a rusty edge. It is smaller than the Common Grackle, at around 24 cm (9 in.) long. The bill and legs are also black, and the eyes are yellow. During spring and summer the bird is black.
The Latin name ‘Euphagus’ means ‘good to eat’, although this blackbird is not the one referred to in the nursery rhyme ‘Four and Twenty Blackbirds’, which refer to the Old World Common Blackbird. The name ‘Carolinus’ refers to the location of the first identified individual.
The call of the rusty blackbird is similar to that of the grackle, to which it is related, and has been compared to a squeaky hinge.
Rusty blackbirds are found in forested wetlands such as bogs, swamps and muskeg. Their diet is varied, from seeds to small fish and insects.
The rusty blackbird breeds on PEI, and its occurrence in spring, summer, and fall ranges from uncommon to fairly common, depending on the years. There have also been occasional sightings of this bird species in the winter. Its overall breeding range encompasses most of Canada and Alaska, and it will winter in the southeast half of the United States.
Conservation: the rusty blackbird is considered as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN due to dramatic and steady declines in its population in the last decades, of as much as 90% in some areas. One important factor is loss of habitat, as wooded wetlands in its wintering grounds have been converted to agriculture. The rusty blackbird is also an unintended victim of poisoning in its wintering range, even if this action is targeted at other blackbirds such as the Common Grackle and the Brown-headed Cowbird. In its breeding range, wooded wetlands are becoming increasingly dry due to climate change. The birds are also contaminated with mercury in eastern Canada. There are now programs in place to try and reverse this ominous trend for the future of the species.