Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz

Blitz summary report

After three years of Winter Blitz and three years of Spring Blitz, we have summarized our findings in a report, which you can view or download here:

Evans, Brian. S. 2016.  Summary report: Assessing Rusty Blackbird habitat suitability on wintering grounds and during spring migration using a large citizen-science dataset. Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. 13 pp.

Among other slick figures, the report contains many maps showing Rusty Blackbird “hotspots” during different times of year. The map below shows large (left), medium (center), and small flock sizes during spring migration from March 29th to April 11th.

Key Findings from the Spring Blitz report:

• Model performance increased with increasing flock size but was lower overall than the Winter Blitz.

• Hot spots were predicted in the Southeastern Coastal Plain and throughout the Mississippi River Basin with a distinct line of low suitability across the Appalachian Mountain chain.

• The environmental niche width decreased with increasing flock size.

• As with Winter distributions, minimum temperature had the greatest influence on model predictions;however, the three wetland classes, emergent, woody, and floodplain forest, each contributed to model performance at different sampling periods.

2016: Year 3 of the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz!

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, launched a Spring Migration Blitz in March 2014.  This Blitz challenges 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.

During our 2014 inaugural season, 4570 birders submitted 13,400 checklists reporting Rusty Blackbirds to eBird. The 2015 Blitz built on this impressive beginning, with 4885 birders submitting 13,919 checklists.  Our third and final Spring Migration Blitz will kick off on March 1, and we once again challenge birders to search high and low for Rusty Blackbirds. In addition to reporting Rusties throughout each state or province, this year we urge birders to revisit 2016 Areas of Interest, locations that supported large flocks of Rusties in 2014 and 2015. By exploring areas that supported large numbers of Rusties last spring, we will be able to evaluate the consistency of habitat use and migratory timing throughout the Rusties’ migratory habitat. Check the Areas of Interest tab for an interactive map of Areas of Interest.

We encourage all experienced birders to participate in the Blitz; submit your Rusty sightings to eBird, or contact your state coordinator for more information on how to get involved!