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BIRD OF THE WEEK
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Euphagus carolinus
POPULATION: Estimates vary widely, from less than 1 million to more than 5 million.
IUCN STATUS: Vulnerable
HABITAT: Breeds where boreal forest meets wetland. Winters in wooded wetlands.
Rusty Blackbird lost between 85 and 95 percent of its population, making it one of the fastest declining North American landbirds. The only North American blackbird more troubled is the Tricolored Blackbird, a localized and declining bird of West Coast wetlands.
At first blush, the Rusty Blackbird’s growing scarcity makes no sense. After all, much of the bird’s breeding range in the boreal forest is remote and roadless, so human impact seems a less likely factor than in areas with cities and suburbs.
For now, scientists strongly suspect a few factors at play in the bird’s decline:
Climate change, which may cause wetlands to dry up more frequently, and also may throw off peak times for aquatic and other insects, affecting blackbird breeding.
Destruction of wetlands for agriculture in the United States wintering range, combined with degradation of remaining habitat.
A combination of these and other threats, including the poisoning of blackbird flocks and infiltration of Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles into degraded habitats, where these birds likely compete with Rusty Blackbirds.