Species Profile

Rusty Blackbird

Scientific Name: Euphagus carolinus
Taxonomy Group: Birds
Range: Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador
Last COSEWIC Assessment: April 2006
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern


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Quick Links: | Taxonomy | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Rusty Blackbird

Taxonomy

There are two blackbird species in North America belonging to genus Euphagus: the Rusty Blackbird and Brewer’s Blackbird. Since they are similar in size and colouring, one species is sometimes confused with the other in the Western provinces.

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Description

The Rusty Blackbird is a thrush-sized passerine. The slightly rounded tail is almost equal in length to the wings, which are narrow and pointed. This blackbird has pale yellow eyes and a slightly curved black bill. During the breeding season, the male’s plumage turns completely black with a slight green iridescence on the body and violet iridescence on the head and neck. The female’s plumage is greyish brown with no iridescence. In winter, the plumage of both sexes takes on a rusty hue, which explains the species’ name. In the fall, it is difficult to distinguish juveniles from adults, although young birds have dark irises.

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Distribution and Population

The breeding range of the Rusty Blackbird includes a vast portion of Canada and Alaska, as well as parts of Minnesota, Michigan, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, and Massachusetts. Its winter range includes most of the central and eastern United States, although a very small number of Rusty Blackbirds winter, albeit sporadically, in the southern part of most Canadian provinces. In Canada, the Rusty Blackbird occurs in all of the provinces and territories, which represent 70% of the North American breeding range. The Canadian population, estimated to be between 110 400 and 1.4 million individuals, represents 70% of the worldwide breeding population. Every indication is that this population has declined significantly since the mid-1960s: the total population is believed to have declined by approximately 85%.

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Habitat

The Rusty Blackbird nests in the boreal forest and favours the shores of wetlands such as slow-moving streams, peat bogs, marshes, swamps, beaver ponds and pasture edges. In wooded areas, the Rusty Blackbird only rarely enters the forest interior. During the winter, the Rusty Blackbird mainly frequents damp forests and, to a lesser extent, cultivated fields. In Canada, the conversion of wetlands into farmland or land suitable for human habitation is the primary cause of habitat loss, particularly in the Rusty Blackbird’s wintering grounds.

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Biology

Typically, Rusty Blackbirds are monogamous and couples nest in isolated pairs on the margins of wetlands. Depending on the latitude, birds usually reach their breeding grounds in April or May. The female builds her nest in riparian vegetation near or above a body of water. Nests are generally constructed with conifer twigs, dead grasses with small roots or other plant parts, moss, and lichen. They are lined with a layer of fine grasses and, occasionally, feathers, hairs, and sphagnum. The female generally produces one clutch per year. She incubates the eggs herself and the male brings her food. A clutch contains three to six eggs and incubation lasts two weeks. The nestlings generally remain in the nest for 11 to 13 days and they may leave several days before they are able to fly. Migration begins in late August and lasts until early October. The Rusty Blackbird feeds mainly on invertebrates, particularly aquatic insect larvae, crustaceans, and snails associated with aquatic environments. It also feeds on salamanders and small fish. During the winter, the Rusty Blackbird supplements its diet with seeds and small fruits.

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Threats

The most serious threat to the Rusty Blackbird is thought to be the conversion of its main wintering grounds, the forests in the Mississippi Valley flood plains, for agricultural or human habitation purposes. Other activities, such as the conversion of wetlands and the creation of hydroelectric reservoirs, could lead to further habitat destruction in the species’ breeding range. In addition, it is quite likely that Rusty Blackbird populations are affected by bird control programs designed to reduce populations of birds that ravage crops. These programs, which have been ongoing in the southeastern United States since the 1970s, seek to reduce “blackbird” populations, such as the Red-winged Blackbird, the Common Grackle, the European Starling, and the Cowbird. The Rusty Blackbird is indirectly affected by these programs, since it intermingles with these species along its migratory routes and in its winter range. Finally, the Rusty Blackbird may also be affected by the degradation of wetlands and the invasion of dominant species, such as the Red-winged Blackbird, in these wetlands.

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Protection

Federal Protection

More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

In Canada, the Rusty Blackbird is not protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994. However, on American soil, the species is protected by the United States’ Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which prohibits the capture, destruction, and possession of this bird.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

18 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Rusty Blackbird Euphagus carolinus in Canada (2006)

    The Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus) is a medium-sized passerine with a slightly rounded tail that is as long as its wings. Both sexes have pale yellow eyes and a black, slightly curved bill. During the breeding season, the adult male is uniformly black, with a faint greenish gloss to its body and slight violet gloss to its head and neck. The female is brownish grey with no gloss. In winter, the plumage of both sexes is more rust-colored. In the western provinces, the Rusty Blackbird can easily be confused with the Brewer’s Blackbird (E. cyanocephalus), which has similar plumage and morphology.

COSEWIC Assessments

Response Statements

  • Response Statements - Rusty Blackbird (2006)

    More than 70% of the breeding range of the species is in Canada’s boreal forest. The species has experienced a severe decline that appears to be ongoing, albeit at a slower rate. There is no evidence to suggest that this trend will be reversed. Known threats occur primarily on the winter range, and include habitat conversion and blackbird control programs in the United States.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada (2016)

    Bruce Peninsula National Park (BPNP) and Fathom Five National Marine Park (FFNMP) lie at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula which separates Georgian Bay from Lake Huron. The peninsula is 90 km in length and its most prominent feature is the Niagara Escarpment which runs along the entire eastern edge. Within BPNP, the escarpment forms the Georgian Bay shoreline and is recognized as part of the core area of the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.  BPNP was established by the federal government in 1987 to protect a representative example of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Lowlands natural region. Because of the fragmented nature of the park properties, many of the stresses on the park’s ecosystem originate from outside its boundaries. For this reason, First Nations, local residents, non-governmental organizations, and other groups and land users play an important role in managing, restoring, and protecting the northern Bruce ecosystem. 
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Gros Morne National Park (2016)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Gros Morne National Park of Canada is a SARA action plan (SARA s.47) for Piping Plover (melodus subspecies), American Marten (Newfoundland population), and Red Crossbill (percna subspecies). The plan also outlines measures to monitor and manage 11 other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in the Park. This plan applies only to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Gros Morne National Park.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site of Canada (2017)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site (KNP and NHS), including Kejimkujik National Park Seaside. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA (s.47)) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur within these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at KNP and NHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada (2016)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the four sites: Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada (KNP) and other land managed by Parks Canada in the Northern New-Brunswick Field Unit offering adequate habitat for the species targeted in this action plan (Fort Beauséjour – Fort Cumberland National Historic Site of Canada (NHS), Beaubassin – Fort Lawrence NHS, Grand-Pré NHS). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA) (s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in KNP and associated NHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada (2016)

    Backed by the Insular Mountain Range of Vancouver Island and facing the open Pacific Ocean, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada (Pacific Rim NPR) protects and presents the rich natural and cultural heritage of Canada's west coast. Pacific Rim NPR consists of three distinct units, the Long Beach Unit, Broken Group Islands Unit, and West Coast Trail Unit, each offering a range of unique visitor experiences. With significant areas (51,216 ha in total) of old growth, temperate rainforest, coastal dune systems, wetlands and foreshore, and marine habitats, the park demonstrates the interconnectedness between land, sea, and people. These natural wonders are interwoven with the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations culture (past and present), and that of European explorers and settlers.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (2016)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the two sites: Point Pelee National Park of Canada (PPNP) and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (NNHS). The NNHS is being used as a term to collectively refer to two locations in the Niagara region that consist of three National Historic Sites: Fort George National Historic Site, Battlefield of Fort George National Historic Site, and Butler’s Barracks National Historic Sites of Canada. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at PPNP and at NNHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Pukaskwa National Park of Canada (2017)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Pukaskwa National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the park. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at Pukaskwa National Park (PNP).
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Terra Nova National Park of Canada and the National Historic Sites of Canada in Eastern Newfoundland (2017)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Terra Nova National Park of Canada and the National Historic Sites of Canada in Eastern Newfoundland applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Terra Nova National Park of Canada (TNNP) as well as the national historic sites (NHS) of Canada within eastern Newfoundland, including Ryan Premises, Hawthorne Cottage, Castle Hill, Signal Hill, and Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Sites of Canada. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur within TNNP and in the national historic sites in the region.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada (2016)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada is a Species At Risk Act action plan (SARA s.47) for four species: American Water-willow (Justicia americana), Butternut (Juglans cinerea), Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), and Pugnose Shiner (Notropis anogenus). The plan also outlines measures to monitor and manage 30 other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in the park. This plan applies only to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Thousand Islands National Park of Canada.

Management Plans

  • Management Plan for the Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus) in Canada (2015)

    The Minister of the Environment and the Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency are the competent minister(s) under SARA for the management of Rusty Blackbird and has prepared this management plan as per section 65 of SARA. It has been prepared, to the extent possible, in cooperation with the governments of Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Laberge Renewable Resources Council, the Wek’èezhì? Renewable Resources Board, the Nunatsiavut Government, the Wildlife Management Advisory Council, the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board, and the Carcross/Tagish First Nation.

Orders

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2006 (2006)

    2006 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act Terrestrial Species: December 2006 (2006)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list. Please submit your comments by March 16, 2007 for species undergoing normal consultations and by March 14, 2008 for species undergoing extended consultations.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update March 31, 2017