Return to Main Page   Dakota Birder Blog    

Rusty Blackbird

Euphagus carolinus

Length: 9 inches Wingspan: 14 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Summer: Dull black with little gloss, yellow eye.   Winter: Rusty brown overall

Rusty Blackbird - Euphagus carolinusThe Rusty Blackbird is only a migrant in the state, as it summers throughout Canada and winters primarily in the Southeastern United States.  The species strongly prefers locations near water, both in migration and winter, and on its summer breeding grounds.  Even at peak in migration, they are generally an uncommon bird compared to some of the other blackbirds in the state.  Summer birds are dull black overall with much less gloss than some other blackbirds, such as Common Grackles.  Their name comes from the rusty-brown plumage they acquire for the winter, as in the photo to the right.

Rusty Blackbirds are a species of concern in North America, as systematic surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey have shown very severe declines since the mid 20th century. Habitat loss is thought to play a key role in their decline.


Strongly prefers habitats near water.  Summer breeding grounds are muskeg swamps in Canada.  During migration and winter, is also generally found near wooded swamps and tree-lined rivers.


The primary food item is insects, including many aquatic insects.  Will also eat small mollusks and crustaceans, small fish, and seeds and waste grain.


Primarily forages on the ground near water, or by foraging in shallow water.  Often gregarious, forming mixed flocks with other blackbird species, especially in migration and in winter.


Non-breeder in South Dakota. On their breeding grounds, Rusty Blackbirds most frequently nest in woody wetland habitats, placing the nest low in a dense shrub or small tree within 1 to 10 feet of the water's surface. The nest is built of a foundation of twigs, grasses, and other vegetative material, and lined with a unique mix of rotting vegetation and mud which dries to a hard inner layer. The female lays between 3 and 6 eggs, and she alone incubates them. The young hatch after about two weeks.


 Song consists of low, squeaky gurgling followed by a higher note at the end. They also have a sharp kek call note, and individual squeaky whistled notes.


Rusty Blackbirds summer throughout much of Canada and Alaska, as well as parts of the far northern Great Lakes and Northeastern US. They winter in the eastern half of the United States. In South Dakota, Rusty Blackbirds are migrants, more commonly found in the eastern part of the state and rare in the west.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Rusty Blackbird sightings

Similar Species:

Rusty Blackbirds are potentially confused with multiple other blackbird species in South Dakota, particularly when birds are in a more basic black plumage and the rusty coloring is reduced.

Brewer's Blackbird 1 - Euphagus cyanocephalus Brewer's Blackbird 5 - Euphagus cyanocephalus Common Grackle 13 - Quiscalus quiscula Brown-headed Cowbird 8 - Molothrus ater
Brewer's Blackbird (male) Brewer's Blackbird (female) Common Grackle (male) Brown-headed Cowbird (male)

Conservation Status:

Numbers have declined significantly since the 1960s, with Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) numbers showing a decline of 89% between the 1960s and the mid 2010s. Christmas Bird Count (CBC) surveys have also recorded declining trends for the species.  As a result the IUCN considers the Rusty Blackbird to be a "Vulnerable" species. There are a number of likely reasons behind the decline, including loss of boreal wetland habitats in Canada (much of it the result of mining activity), climate change impacts on northern habitats, and introduced chemicals in the environment.

Further Information:

Photo Information:

October 9th, 2006 - Lake County - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Rusty Blackbird photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Rusty Blackbird - Species Range Map
South Dakota Status: Irregular but sometimes common migrant in the eastern part of the state, rare in the west.

Additional Rusty Blackbird Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Rusty Blackbird 1 - Euphagus carolinusRusty Blackbird 1 - Euphagus carolinusRusty Blackbird 1 - Euphagus carolinusRusty Blackbird 4 - Euphagus carolinus