Here Today …By
This Rusty Blackbird was at Garret Mountain this morning, where he paused to do a little prospecting in a shallow creek bed before taking off to the southwest.
It’s a beautiful bird, especially in this fresh fall plumage, but over the past couple of decades, the species has become more notable for its scarcity. When I started birding, thirty-five years ago, this was a common bird, and the sound of a couple of hundred squeaking and squealing like rusty hinges was just one more sign that spring had sprung. Now even a few dozen — even just one — causes a little bit of a minor stir here in New Jersey.
Nobody really knows what’s wrong with this bird, which means that we don’t really know what to do to encourage its comeback. Acid rain, habitat loss, global warming, and the indiscriminate poisoning of blackbird flocks are no doubt all to blame. My sense is that even those involved most fervently in the effort to save this species are at a loss, and time is running out. One of the most chilling sentences I’ve read for a long time comes from a paper in last year’s Boreal Birds of North America:
the regional population size at which an extinction vortex … is reached may be relatively high for migratory species, such as Rusty Blackbirds….
In plainer English: it probably isn’t enough to save just a few. Like, oh, say, the Passenger Pigeon, the Rusty Blackbird may need a large background population for successful breeding to take place. A few dozen Rusties brighten a birder’s day, for sure, but they’re not enough to ensure the survival of their species.
To learn about supporting Rusty Blackbird conservation efforts, make contact with the International Rusty Blackbird Technical Working Group.