Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Rusty Blackbird - Euphagus carolinus
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General Comments The Rusty Blackbird is a bird of the Far North in the breeding season, nesting in stunted spruce and fir trees, or around the edges of bogs/muskegs. However, it leaves this area in fall, and winters across most of the eastern United States, including most of North Carolina. For some unknown reason(s), the Breeding Bird Survey has shown declines of Rusty Blackbirds up nearly 90% since its inception in the mid-1960's. This is odd for a bird that nests in remote boreal areas and winters in swamps and other wetland forests and thickets, usually with other blackbirds. In fact, some folks have questioned this steepness of a decline, as wintering numbers -- though down -- are clearly nowhere near catastrophic in most Southern states. In North Carolina, Rusties usually feed on the ground, within a swamp or bottomland; but they also feed in wet fields, croplands, or feedlots, but seldom far from wooded cover, to which they quickly flush when disturbed. They roost at night with other blackbirds in swamps and wet thickets. The species has never been overly "common" in the state, and in general it is an uncommon bird, relative to most other blackbird species in the state. Several reports from the summer season are likely of juvenile Common Grackles.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status W
U.S. Status
State Rank S3N
Global Rank G4
Coastal Plain Winter resident. Fairly common, at least locally, over most of the region, except generally absent along the immediate coast. Seemingly most numerous in the southern Tidewater area, and in other swamp forests in the eastern and central portions. Can be slightly more widespread in migration, but seldom is common. Generally does not occur on coastal islands. Mainly late Oct to early Apr. Peak counts:
Piedmont Winter resident, with noticeable migratory movements. Uncommon to fairly common in winter in the eastern and southern portions, and rare to uncommon in the central and northwestern portions. Slightly more numerous in migration, but no more than fairly common in migration. Mainly early Nov to early Apr. Peak counts: 2,000, North Wilkesboro, 16 Mar 1964; 1,350, Pee Dee NWR, 8 Dec 2015; 1,085, Chapel Hill CBC, 23 Dec 2012; 916, Gastonia CBC, 15 Dec 2012; 816, Chapel Hill CBC, 23 Dec 2007.
Mountains Transient, and scarce winter visitor. At lower elevations, rare to uncommon transient, and rare in winter, but generally not overwintering. More numerous in spring than in fall; at times sizable flocks seen in spring. Very rare at higher elevations, essentially only in migration. Mainly early Nov to early Apr. Peak counts:
Finding Tips There are no "sure bets", in terms of wintering sites. Forests on the south side of Lake Mattamuskeet, or in the Pungo Lake area, can be productive for finding the species.
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Attribution LeGrand[2023-04-02], LeGrand[2018-02-02], LeGrand[2016-09-29]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.