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** Archived Article - please check for current information. **

January 27, 2011

Join the Rusty Blackbird Blitz Jan. 29 to Feb. 13

Where are the Rusty Blackbirds? The North American population of this species has plunged an estimated 85 to 99 percent over the past 40 years. To help pinpoint where the remaining birds can be found, volunteers are needed for the third annual Rusty Blackbird Blitz taking place Jan. 29 through Feb. 13. This is when Rusty Blackbirds become easier to find and the population is relatively sedentary.

Volunteers can report the presence or absence of Rusty Blackbirds at eBird.org. Data gathered during the blitz will be used to create a map of wintering Rusty Blackbird "hot spots" and will help focus research, monitoring, and conservation efforts.

States known to be part of the Rusty Blackbird's winter range: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas (east), Virginia, and West Virginia.

The eBird program is led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. The blitz is coordinated by the International Rusty Blackbird Technical Working Group at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center along with the Cornell Lab and Audubon.

The decline of Rusty Blackbirds is one of the most severe population crashes of any North American bird species, yet the causes largely remain a mystery. Little is known about the birds' biology, ecological requirements and other characteristics. Rusties are very shy birds that fear new or strange phenomena. This combined with the fact that they breed in northern boreal wetlands and winter in bottomland wooded-wetlands, primarily in American Midwestern and Southeastern states, makes Rusty Blackbirds difficult to study and capture.

"Blitzers" will report the number of birds present at each location they visit, along with very basic habitat information. One hallmark of the Rusty Blackbird is its pale "staring" eyes. In late January and early February, males will appear mostly black and females will have rusty edges on their wings and body.

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