The Rusty Blackbird (
) is strictly a North American species. They breed across the boreal forest in Canada and winter in the eastern U.S. In Texas, they are a rare to locally uncommon migrant and winter resident found mostly in the Pineywoods and North-Central regions of the state. They are a rare winter visitor to the Panhandle and South Plains region. Scattered records exist for the Western Portion of Texas and a few records exist for the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The preferred habitat for Rusty Blackbirds is wet areas including flooded woods, swamps, marshes, and the edges of ponds. These moist habitats are their favorite foraging areas in winter and during migration. During the breeding season, they favor bogs, beaver ponds, and wet woods in the boreal forests of Canada.
Rusty Blackbird is a member of the Icteridae Family (Meadowlarks, Cowbirds, Blackbirds, Grackles, and Orioles). Rusty Blackbird is easily identified compared to the other blackbirds. They have a yellow eye, slender black bill, a black blue-green sheen, and of course a rusty/rufous color present on the head, upper back, and breast. The tertials in both sexes will have rusty/rufous edges during winter. Note that the male is entirely black with a blue-green sheen during breeding season and has the rusty coloration only during non-breeding season. The female is drab brown during the breeding season and rufous overall during non-breeding. Their typical weight is 2.1 oz or 60 grams. Their song is a series of high-pitched and squeaky notes, “koo-a-lee-eek” with the call being a harsh, repeated “check”.
The species has undergone one of the most dramatic declines during the past 40 years with reductions totaling 85-98% of the population.
Their song is often compared to the grating of a rusty hinge.
Like most members of the blackbird family, the Rusty Blackbird undergoes only one molt per year. The change in appearance between winter and summer results from the rust-colored feather tips of its winter plumage wearing off and leaving behind the smooth black breeding plumage.
A group of blackbirds has many collective nouns including a “cloud”, “cluster”, and “merl” of blackbirds.
Rusty Blackbirds feed mostly on insects and plant matter, but they sometimes attack and eat other birds. They have been documented feeding on sparrows, robins, and snipe, among others.
The oldest recorded Rusty Blackbird was at least 8 years, 7 months old. It was banded in Arkansas in 1931, and shot in 1939 in Mississippi.