Beak of the Week – Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)

Family: Icteridae

Rusty Blackbirds have been the talk of High Island for the last few weeks, as they are currently being seen in Smith Oaks Sanctuary for the first time. They winter in the Eastern United States and are relatively uncommon in Southern Texas. 

These birds have a thin, curved bill and a shorter tail than Common Grackles. Breeding males have the glossy black plumage that is characteristic of Icterids. Nonbreeding males, however, have black or dark brown feathers with rusty edging. A black mask surrounds their pale iris, bordered above by a pale supercilium. Females look similar to nonbreeding males but are lighter overall with a gray rump.

They prefer wooded swamps and pond edges, where they forage on the ground for insects and seeds, often wading through water and flipping over leaves. Rusty Blackbirds form small flocks and may associate with Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles during the nonbreeding season. In the breeding season, they select a wet area to build their nests in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska.

Unfortunately, Rusty Blackbirds are experiencing an extremely steep decline, with the population approximately 85-99% of what it was 40 years ago (according to the 2014 State of the Birds Report). Although we are not sure what is causing this, it is thought that wetland drainage, deforestation, climate change, and mercury poisoning may be involved. If you want to see these beautiful and vulnerable birds up close, be sure to stop by Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary soon.

Greg Lavaty
Greg Lavaty

✏️ By Phoebe Honscheid, Conservation Technician, Houston Audubon

 Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds! 

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