Rare blackbirds | Lifestyles | theadanews.com
This week’s star critter is a blackbird that isn’t seen as often in the area as some other blackbird species.
During the snowy weather last week, a handful of rusty blackbirds visited my feeding stations. Although I immediately knew what it was, it was the first time I had seen the species with my own eyes.
I may have seen one or more when I was a young birder, but I really don’t remember them. And since I lost my life list back then, I can’t check and see the birds whose sightings I may have forgotten.
So it descends like a bird of life.
I immediately knew the species because I had read a lot about it and had seen a lot of photos.
These birds tend to inhabit areas near water, but the Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that some may join flocks of other blackbirds and feed with them in dry fields.
And it’s worth remembering that you enjoy birdwatching/birdwatching, to scan flocks of blackbirds for uncommon species. I make it a point to remember this now, but I used to walk past these flocks, often assuming they were a group of common birds that weren’t really worth the hassle of stop.
A few weeks ago, I was driving in western Oklahoma when I saw large herds of blackbirds exploring pastures and croplands for food.
I could tell the herds consisted mostly of red-winged blackbirds and brown-headed cowbirds, which are abundant in Oklahoma.
But remembering that sometimes unusual birds join these flocks, I paused on the shoulder. I was right about the two previously mentioned species, but among them were a few starlings and, ta-da, there were about a dozen Brewer’s blackbirds – which are somewhat rare – mixed together.
This was a first sighting for me, and may be the only time I see Brewer’s Robins all year, so the shutdown definitely paid off.
But a word of warning, whether or not I stop to scan a flock of blackbirds depends on a few factors, such as the amount of traffic, and whether or not the road is improved.
If I’m going to be some kind of road safety obstacle, or if a road doesn’t have improved shoulders, then I can’t stop. I like to get far enough out of the way, far enough that people don’t feel like they have to move into the oncoming lane or something.
However, if I’m traveling on desolate county roads, traffic isn’t much of an issue.
Also, stopping near rural residences can be tricky. Some people saw me aiming at my camera lens – it’s very big – and thought it was some sort of telescope. It’s always a tricky situation.
I was certainly happy to see the rusty blackbirds at my feeding stations. I always try to keep an eye on my feeders, but especially on snowy or rainy days. Bad weather often brings unusual birds.
Unfortunately, the rusty blackbird is one of the fastest declining species in North America. The population has declined by around 85-95% over the past 50 years and scientists are completely baffled as to the cause.
During breeding season, male rusty blackbirds are all black with greenish sheen. But after the breeding season, and throughout the winter, the males have rust-tinged feathers (photos).
Some non-breeding males have more extensive rust-tinged feathers than others (pictures).
Females are similar in size to males, but are paler, almost tan-orange on the chest, head, and back.
Rusty blackbirds winter in the eastern half of the United States, from about the mid-states of the Great Plains to the Atlantic coast. However, the bird’s uncommon wintering range extends to the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area, near Sulfur and Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge, lists the rusty blackbird as an uncommon winter visitor.
They breed primarily north of the lower 48 United States, across Canada and Alaska.
In winter, the Cornell Lab reports that rusty blackbirds inhabit swamps, moist forests, and the edges of ponds. However, as mentioned earlier, they will join flocks of other blackbirds and feed with them in dry fields.
According to the National Audubon Society, rusty blackbirds primarily eat insects and seeds. With their association with water, they consume many aquatic insects such as mayflies, caddisflies, dragonflies and water beetles.
In winter, they also eat seeds, acorns and grain waste.
– The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that although rusty blackbirds primarily eat insects and plant matter, they sometimes attack and eat other birds. They have been documented feeding on sparrows, robins, and snipes, among others. Ouch!
– The oldest known wild rusty blackbird was 8 years and 7 months old. The Cornell Lab reports that the bird was banded in Arkansas in 1931 and shot in Mississippi in 1939.
(Editor’s Note: Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birder, nature enthusiast, and photographer for over 40 years. Contact him at [email protected] .)