The Rusty Blackbird is likely the most rapidly declining bird in North America. The reasons for this decline are poorly understand, and in 2005 the International Rusty Blackbird Technical Working Group was formed to address this lack of knowledge. This species is an uncommon winter resident across Tennessee arriving in early November and departing by mid-April. It is primarily found in wet woods, swamps and pastures, and regularly associates with other blackbird species in large winter flocks. It breeds almost exclusively in the boreal forests of Alaska and Canada, and winters primarily in the southeastern United States.
Description: Breeding adult males (January-August) are uniformly black above with a greenish gloss; breeding females (March-August) are slate-gray, slightly paler below with blackish wings and tail. Non-breeding males (August-March) have black feathers with rusty tips, especially on the face, nape and back; females are brownish with rusty feather tips, a gray rump, tawny eye-stripe and dark eye-patch. Both male and female have yellow eyes year round.
Weight: 2.1 oz.
- Common Grackles also have a yellow eye, but are much larger and have a longer, heavier bill. Grackles remain black during the non-breeding season.
- Brewer's Blackbird males have a yellow eye and look very similar, but are black with a purple gloss in the summer, and are less rusty in winter. Female Brewer's Blackbirds have a dark eye (however, up to 10% of female Brewer's can have yellow eyes).
Habitat: In Tennessee, Rusty Blackbirds are found typically in flooded or wet hardwood forests, beaver ponds, and pond edges.
Diet: Mostly eat acorns and fruit during the winter, but sometimes frogs and insects.
Nesting and reproduction: The Rusty Blackbird has never been known to nest in Tennessee.
Status in Tennessee: Rusty Blackbirds are an uncommon migrant and winter resident across Tennessee, but are much more common in the western half of the state. They usually arrive in early November and depart by mid-May.
Dynamic map of Rusty Blackbird eBird observations in Tennessee
- Rusty Blackbirds primarily forage on insects and plant matter in summer, but have been documented eating sparrows, robins, and snipe.
- The Rusty Blackbird is the most rapidly declining species in North America. In the last 40 years, their population is estimated to have declined 95%. Possible explanations for this rapid decline include extensive poisoning of blackbird flocks in the 1960-1970s, loss of prime winter habitat to agriculture, accumulating effects of mercury in the environment, acid rain, among other ideas.
Obsolete English Names: blackbird, rusty grackle
Best places to see in Tennessee: Rusty Blackbirds may be found in flooded or wet hardwood forests in the western half of the state from early November to mid-May. They are often found in flocks flipping over leaves looking for food. Specific sites include Meeman-Shelby Forest WMA, Chickasaw NWR, Reelfoot Lake, Cross Creeks NWR, among other locations.
For more information:
Boreal Songbird Initiative
Avery, M. L. 1995. Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus), The Birds of North America, No. 200 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of TN Press, Knoxville.
Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.
Consider using the online bird checklist program at eBird to help us understand bird populations and distributions in Tennessee. Click here to see how.