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Rusty Nailed

November 8, 2007

How many of us are really aware of the plight of the Rusty Blackbird? Sure, it’s not flashy, it’s rarely a target species for many as it’s buried there in the back of the field guide, and often can be difficult to tell from other blackbirds especially given the Icterid propensity to hang out together. But of all the species that have suffered declines in North America (and sadly, it’s many), the Rusty has quietly suffered one of the most severe. According to Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count statistics, the Rusty Blackbird population has collapsed, down a staggering 80-90% since the 1960s. The bird is in serious trouble. And here’s the kicker, in many states it’s still legal to shoot them without a permit.

I’ll give you a second to pick your jaw off the floor there.

That’s right, in many states blackbirds, characterized as not only the ever present grackles, starling and red-wings but also the Rusty are listed as nuisance birds. Therefore, one is allowed to take as many as one wants if the birds are, and this is directly from Federal law (emphasis mine), “committing or about to commit depredations on ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in numbers and in a manner that constitutes a health hazard or other nuisance“. There is a lot of gray area there. In short, you can shoot Rusty Blackbirds practically whenever you want. In North Dakota the USDA is currently testing a new plan that involves baiting the birds with brown rice. If that proves successful the rice will be treated with a poison. Migratory Bird Act need not apply apparently.

The problem, of course, is that there are no provisions differentiating starlings and grackles, which certainly can be nuisances in large numbers, from our Rusty Blackbird, whose population is taking a dramatic nosedive. And if no such qualifications are made, the Rusty Blackbird’s unfortunate resemblance to more problematic species may write its ticket right into extinction. See them while you can folks…

  1. Veery permalink
    November 9, 2007 12:28 am

    The rapid decline of these “nuisance” birds is alarming. How could the Common Grackle be a seriously declining bird? But it is!

    The Rusty Blackbird is such a cool bird, thanks for spreading the word on this..that plan to kill off blackbirds is sick, I can hardly believe they would allow this.

  2. Jochen permalink
    November 9, 2007 4:16 am

    During my highschool exchange year (1987) I OFTEN saw them in our southern Ontario backyard.
    During my birding holiday in May 2005 in Michigan and southern Ontario I saw none.
    During my stay in Michigan from October 2006 to September 2007 I saw none.

    Pretty sad…

  3. Larry permalink
    November 11, 2007 5:18 pm

    I saw my first Rusty Blackbirds this year.-I’ll look forward to checking your future posts.I like what I see on this birding blog!

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