Birders are asked to seek rare species
Staff Report | March 10,2014
The rusty blackbird is one of North America’s most rapidly declining species and is the focus of efforts by scientists and volunteers to better track the blackbird’s migration habits and stopover habitats.
To this end, the rusty blackbird “Spring Migration Blitz” of 2014 is encouraging birders to try to find elusive “rusties” during their annual foray northward.
Vermont blitz coordinator Charlie Browne is urging experienced birders to go out between Saturday and April 30 to see where the “rusties” take breaks during their migration to boreal breeding grounds. Browne is hoping that birders will report their sightings through the eBird application, an online birding checklist program.
The rusty blackbird population has declined 85 to 95 percent since the mid-20th century, one of the steepest falls for a bird species in recent memory. And the main cause behind the decline remains mostly speculative. Scientists have cited habitat loss and degradation, competition, and the effects of climate change as possible reasons.
Blitz program coordinators believe that having volunteer birders gather data across North America will aid scientists in their attempt to bring the population back to normal levels.
Birders can identify male “rusties” in the spring by their glossy black plumage and the female by their rusty highlights on an otherwise silvery-gray body. The birds have pale yellow eyes.
Browne said that migrating “rusties” may be seen in a variety of Vermont habitats, particularly damp sites such as vernal pools, plowed fields, floodplains and shallow wetlands.
The rusty blackbird migration blitz of 2014 is an international project planned and coordinated by Judith Scarl of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies in Norwich. More information is available at www.rustyblackbird.org or by calling Browne at 592-3545.