Conservation News

Rusty Blackbird Blitz Returns

By Carol Foss, Senior Advisor for Science and Policy

As I write, New Hampshire temperatures are in the single digits and icy winds are blasting across the landscape. The last New Hampshire Rusty Blackbird sightings were in early December, and the nearest flocks in the first week of 2015 are located in New Jersey. Nonetheless, my thoughts are already turning to Rusty Blackbirds, and by the time this issue reaches readers, the 2015 Migration Blitz field season will be upon us!

Rusty Blackbird Data from 2014

Rusty Blackbird Data from 2014. Click to see the larger map.

Sponsored by the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group in partnership with eBird, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, the three-year Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz is a continent-wide effort to shed light on the migration ecology of this elusive species. Following the successful inaugural 2014 field season, Blitz organizers are looking forward to even stronger participation in 2015.

The Blitz challenges birders across 38 states, nine provinces, and three Canadian territories to search for Rusty Blackbirds during their northward migratory journey. To participate, birders scour the landscape for Rusties and report their data to eBird under the “Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz” observation type, enabling the Blitz to tap into an existing network of citizen scientists and to encourage new participants to use a broad-based conservation tool. These data will be used to identify Rusty Blackbird hotspots across the landscape and assess whether critical stopover areas are adequately protected. The ultimate goal is to ensure that Rusty Blackbirds have access to high-quality habitat throughout a journey that is energetically costly and already fraught with peril.

While most of New Hampshire’s 2014 Blitz reports were of individuals or pairs, observers located flocks of 14 to 29 individuals in Concord, Dalton, Dummer, Fremont, Lee, and Milan. Goals for 2015 NH Blitz include revisiting those sites to determine if flocks stop there in multiple years, revisiting other locations with previous sightings and finding new areas with Rusty Blackbird activity.

Target dates for Blitz efforts in New Hampshire are from mid-March through April, but we encourage reports of Rusty Blackbird sightings to e-Bird at any time of year, as every reported sighting contributes to our knowledge of the species. The timing of peak migration varies from one year to the next, and was on the late side last spring. The flocks noted above were observed between April 3 and 13, and an individual that had overwintered in Pittsfield was last seen on the April 12. What will happen this year? YOU can help find out! So grab your binoculars, pull on your boots, and head for an inviting field or swamp to look and listen for these elusive birds!

To learn more about the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz and how to participate, visit our website at http://rustyblackbird.org/outreach/migration-blitz/ or contact Carol Foss at cfoss@nhaudubon.org.