As if U.S. and Canadian birders needed another reason to pull ourselves out of the winter doldrums, how about birding for a good cause? Specifically, the plight of the Rusty Blackbird, which has experienced the sharpest rate of decline among North American landbirds, according to the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group (IRBWG), and has a conservation status of Vulnerable. To help scientists determine how best to keep the bird and its “squeaky hinge” song from disappearing for good, the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz is now officially underway.
From March 1 through mid-June, birders in the Rusty’s range (38 U.S. states, 9 Canadian provinces, and 3 Canadian territories) are asked to be on the lookout for these birds as they migrate toward their northern breeding grounds. Researchers have a good understanding of Rusties’ summer and winter locations, but don’t know much about where they stop along the way, in what numbers, and for how long. That makes protecting these sites a challenge.
If you find any Rusty Blackbirds when you are out in the field this spring, you can enter it into eBird through the “Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz” observation type. eBird will share the data with IRBWG and its partners (the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, and others). You can visit your favorite or usual birding spots, or try to target areas where Rusties are likely to congregate.
There’s a ton of information at the project’s website. Visit it to learn how to collect and submit data, how to identify Rusty Blackbirds and their preferred habitat, when the birds will probably be in your neck of the woods, and more. And you can keep tabs on the Blitz through its Facebook page.
(Male Rusty Blackbird image above copyright Richard Orr, courtesy of IRBWG)