How do I recognize it? The species is about the size of a Red-winged Blackbird, but somewhat slimmer. In breeding plumage it is glossy black and both sexes have pale eyes. In winter plumage, it is largely rusty brown (or shows rusty edges to dark feathers), hence its name. In spring and summer it is best separated from the similar Brewer’s Blackbird by its different habitat and squeaky voice.
Is it migratory? Most Rusty Blackbirds migrate from their northern breeding grounds to the southeastern United States to winter, although a few may linger in southern parts of Canada, including Manitoba.
Where does it live? Rusty Blackbirds breed in the Boreal Forest, from Alaska to Newfoundland, with smaller populations in the northern contiguous United States. About 70 % of the total population breeds in Canada. They occur right up to the treeline and are almost always associated with shrubbery at the edges of ponds and steams.
Where can I see it? During migration, it is often found at flooded woodlots, stream edges, sewage lagoons and marshes. It is not common in urban centres or open farmland. In summer a great place to see it is in the Goose Creek area near Churchill.
Conservation status: Rusty Blackbird is considered a Species of Special Concern by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) and it is listed as globally Vulnerable by Birdlife International. Its numbers are estimated to have declined by 85 % since the 1960s. Declines have been linked to habitat loss on the wintering grounds due to conversion of wetlands and floodplains for agriculture and other human purposes. Bird control programs to reduce crop damage (from all blackbirds) have also been implicated. Although the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz ended in 2016, it is still worthwhile to keep track of numbers of migrants and to report them on e-Bird or the Manitobabirds listserve.