Sunday Science: Rusty Blackbird Blitz - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Sunday Science: Rusty Blackbird Blitz

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There's a new effort to understand an often-overlooked songbird that environmentalists worry may be in serious trouble.

The rusty blackbird breeds in Canada and Northern New England and migrates south. But there aren't too many of them out there anymore, and scientists don't know why. So they're asking for your help to find them.

The rusty blackbird is often confused with other songbirds. It's a bit smaller than a robin, with rusty-tipped feathers, hence its name. But scientists know very little about its migration patterns, and that's why they're asking birders to take part in the International Rusty Blackbird Blitz to find out where they go. They say many factors, like habitat loss, caused the species' numbers to drop sharply, and they haven't rebounded.

"So 50 or so years ago you would have seen flocks of hundreds or thousands of them in the trees or darkening the skies. And then it experienced one of the biggest population crashes of any North American land bird. So it lost 95 percent of its population over 100 years," says Judith Scarl, the International Rusty Blackbird Blitz Coordinator. "And the strangest thing about that is that no one even noticed. It was only in the last 20 years that scientists started looking at the data and going 'Oh my gosh, this bird is in big trouble.'"

So here's what you should be looking for if you go out searching for the rusty blackbird: they have yellow eyes, and during migration season, they aren't as rusty. The males will be a dull to glossy black and the females are charcoal grey. Their call, appropriately, sounds a bit like a rusty door hinge.

Scarl says they're hoping the data they get from birders in the next three years will help them figure out a conservation strategy. In total, more than 3,600 sightings were reported just last month.

Our region has until the end of the month to report your sightings on e-bird. For more information about the bird, including calls and photos -- visit http://rustyblackbird.org.

And to learn more about the blitz visit: http://rustyblackbird.org/outreach/migration-blitz/

Thanks to Bonnie Ott, Richard Orr, Daniel Clark, and Ray Lotier for the photos and video.

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