Return to Main Page   Dakota Birder Blog    

Rusty Blackbird

Euphagus carolinus

Length: 9 inches Wingspan: 14 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Summer: Dull black with little gloss, yellow eye.   Winter: Rusty brown overall

Rusty Blackbird - Euphagus carolinusThe Rusty Blackbird is only a migrant in the state, as it summers throughout Canada and winters primarily in the Southeastern United States.  The species strongly prefers locations near water, both in migration and winter, and on its summer breeding grounds.  Even at peak in migration, they are generally an uncommon bird compared to some of the other blackbirds in the state.  Summer birds are dull black overall with much less gloss than some other blackbirds, such as Common Grackles.  Their name comes from the rusty-brown plumage they acquire for the winter, as in the photo to the right.

Habitat: Strongly prefers habitats near water.  Summer breeding grounds are muskeg swamps in Canada.  During migration and winter, is also generally found near wooded swamps and tree-lined rivers.

Diet: The primary food item is insects, including many aquatic insects.  Will also eat small mollusks and crustaceans, small fish, and seeds and waste grain.

Behavior: Primarily forages on the ground near water, or by foraging in shallow water.  Often gregarious, forming mixed flocks with other blackbird species, especially in migration and in winter.

Breeding: Non-breeder in South Dakota

Song: Song consists of low gurgling followed by a higher whistle.

Migration: Summers throughout much of Canada and Alaska.  Winters in the eastern half of the United States 

Interactive eBird Map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Rusty Blackbird sightings

Similar Species: Brewer's Blackbird

Conservation Status: Numbers have declined significantly since the 1960s. Both the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) have recorded declining trends for the species.  As a result the IUCN considers the Rusty Blackbird to be a "Vulnerable" species. There are a number of likely reasons behind the decline, including loss of boreal wetland habitats in Canada (much of it the result of mining activity), climate change impacts on northern habitats, and introduced chemicals in the environment.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Rusty Blackbird

2) WhatBird - Rusty Blackbird

3) Audubon Guide - Rusty Blackbird

Photo Information: October 9th, 2006 - Lake County - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Rusty Blackbird photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Rusty Blackbird - Species Range Map
South Dakota Status: Irregular but sometimes common migrant in the eastern part of the state, rare in the west.

Additional Rusty Blackbird Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Rusty Blackbird - Euphagus carolinusRusty Blackbird - Euphagus carolinusRusty Blackbird - Euphagus carolinus