It’s time again to search high and low for Rusty Blackbirds. The 2016 Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz is taking place right now.
Researchers with the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group launched the spring blitz in 2014. In partnership with eBird, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, they asked birders to report Rusties throughout their migratory range, from the southern United States through the Midwest and along the East Coast and up into Canada.
Participation is easy. Simply search for the species anywhere you want, then report your sightings to eBird using the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz protocol. You can submit a report at any time between March 1 and June 15. Check the website for target dates when Rusties are expected to pass through your state or province.
In the inaugural season, 4,570 birders submitted 13,400 checklists. Last spring, a larger number of birders (4,885) turned in even more checklists (13,919).
This spring, the working group is urging blackbird watchers not only to report all migrating Rusties but also to revisit so-called areas of interest, locations that supported large flocks of blackbirds in 2014 and 2015. “By exploring areas that supported large numbers of Rusties last spring,” say the organizers, “we will be able to evaluate the consistency of habitat use and migratory timing throughout the Rusties’ migratory habitat.”
As you probably know, Rusty Blackbird is a species that has shown chronic long-term and acute short-term population declines, based both on breeding-season and wintering-ground surveys. Scientists have made huge strides in understanding the species on its breeding and wintering grounds, yet they know surprisingly little about its migratory requirements and habits.
Are there hotspots where many individuals congregate during migration? Do Rusties use the same migratory stopovers each year? Are stopover areas protected, or might their availability be limiting the survival of the blackbird? These are just a few of the questions that participants in the blitz can help answer.
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