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Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz 2014

[I know most AR-advocates are not familiar with most wildlife species, but those who are might consider helping out here for a reason that may not be immediately obvious. Large numbers of "blackbirds" (mostly Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, Common Grackles and Brown-headed Cowbirds, and, out west, Brewer's Blackbirds -- all abundant) are killed in the U.S. each year, especially around livestock feed lots, each year. It is abominable but there's not much opposition. However, Rusty Blackbirds sometimes associate with these blackbirds (and starlings) and are in decline, and no one knows why. But if enough data can be generated from this work it might warrant placing them under the Endangered Species Act by which environmentalists would have a tool to use against poisoning all of them. -- BKM]

The international Rusty Blackbird Blitz officially kicks off today in Ontario. Please consider taking some time over the next month and a half (as Rusty Blackbirds pass through Ontario) to survey your local wetlands and fields for this declining species.

Participating in the blitz is easy - go out and look for Rusty Blackbirds and report your findings (positive or negative) to You can go the extra mile and report additional details about your survey using the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz survey protocol in eBird by following the instructions ( -Protocol.pdf ).

There is lots more information available on the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz website ( or by contacting Mike Burrell (

Here's a copy of the blitz announcement published in the last issue of OFO News:

*Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz- Calling All Birders!*

*Why?* Over the past half-century, the historically abundant Rusty Blackbird has endured one of the steepest population declines ever documented among North American landbirds. Within the last 15 years, scientists have learned more about this bird's breeding and wintering ecology, and this knowledge allows us to target conservation initiatives during these phases of this bird's annual cycle. However, as with many migratory species, we know very little about Rusty Blackbird ecology, distribution, and habitat use during migration. Are there hot spots where many individuals congregate? Are there stopover areas that are used predictably each year, and are these locations protected? The Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz will address these and other questions to help focus future research and conservation of one of North America's most vulnerable blackbirds. We're recruiting an army of birders to participate in this effort to help conserve this fascinating songbird. Will you accept our birding challenge?

*Who?* The International Rusty Blackbird Working Group, eBird, and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies are partnering with local organizations, including Bird Studies Canada, to recruit volunteer observers from across the southeastern U.S., East Coast, Midwest, Alaska, and Canada.

*What? *Each participating state, province, and territory will have a 3-8 week target window during which birders will search for Rusty Blackbirds. Within this window, birders may explore favored birding haunts or newly identified areas that they suspect may harbor Rusty Blackbirds. We'll provide some guidance on potential habitats to explore, but birders should feel free to get creative - and ambitious! - with their searching.

*When?* Spring 2014 kicks off the first year of this three-year Spring Migration Blitz; the Blitz window will span early March through mid-June, with more specific timeframes identified for each state or province to account for the northward migratory progression. Target dates for Ontario are April to mid-May.

*Where? *Get ready for a continent-wide event! The Spring Blitz will span the Rusty Blackbird's entire spring migration range, from the wintering grounds in the southeastern United States, up the East Coast and through the Midwest to Canada and Alaska.

*How do I get involved?* Easy! If you'd like to contribute data to the Spring Migration Blitz effort, bird as you normally do, focusing on potential Rusty Blackbird habitat during the Blitz time frame established for your region. You can seek out the best-known places for Rusty sightings or explore uncharted territory. Make sure to report ALL of your observations to eBird - we want to know both where you saw these birds and where you didn't. Check out the newly revamped website of the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group ( for information about identification, vocalizations, habitat preferences, and types of data to collect to support this initiative. Also, check with your Ontario coordinator Mike Burrell for additional ways you can help with the Blitz efforts in your region, or contact Spring Migration Blitz Coordinator Judith Scarl ( to get involved in the broader Blitz initiative!

Thanks for "Getting Rusty" with us this spring! Like us on Facebook ( to follow up-to-the minute information about our Blitz, and happy birding!

The International Rusty Blackbird Working Group eBird and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Vermont Center for Ecostudies Bird Studies Canada

Mike Burrell

Although scientists have made huge strides in understanding Rusty Blackbirds on their breeding and wintering grounds - partly thanks to the original Rusty Blackbird Winter Blitz - we know surprisingly little about the migratory requirements and habits of this species. Are there hot spots where many individuals congregate during migration? Are similar migratory stopover areas used by Rusties each year? Are stopover areas protected, or might availability of these areas be limiting Rusty Blackbird survival?

To address these questions, the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group, in partnership with eBird, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, is coordinating a Spring Migration Blitz for 2014. This Blitz will challenge birders to seek out the elusive Rusty Blackbird throughout its migratory range, from the southern United States, through the Midwest and along the East Coast, and up into Canada.

The Spring Migration Blitz will kick off in March of 2014; each state, province, or territory is assigned target dates for conducting the Blitz based on estimated peak migration periods. Looking to get involved? Volunteers like you are critical to the success of this initiative! In 2010 alone, eBirders reported more than 11,700 Rusty Blackbirds during the Rusty Blackbird Winter Blitz. We encourage all experienced birders to participate; contact your state coordinator for more information!

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