Rusty blackbird

Rusty BlackBirdThe Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus; RUBL) experienced one of the most significant declines ever documented among a once-common North American bird. Recent research on RUBLs has yielded information about the basic ecology of this understudied coniferous wetland breeder, but the critical factors responsible for their precipitous decline (> -90%) and their failure to recover remain unknown. One factor may be an “ecological trap” where birds nest in regenerating logged areas adjacent to wetlands (Powell et al. 2010) and are exposed to disproportionately high nest predation compared to wetlands in unharvested forest. Timber harvest likely affects abundance and diversity of nest predators.

The rusty blackbird (Euphagus carolinus) is a medium-sized blackbird, closely related to grackles (rusty grackle is an older name for the species). It is a bird that prefers wet forested areas, breeding in the boreal forest and muskeg across northern Canada, and migrating southeast to the United States during winter.

Formerly abundant, the rusty blackbird has undergone one of the most rapid declines of any abundant bird species in North America in recent years, for reasons that are not well understood.

Project Title: Will an ecological trap prevent the recovery of the Rusty Blackbird in Northeastern North America?

To address this issue, we propose to study the nesting ecology of and nest predation rates in the Rusty Blackbird throughout the Northeastern United States. The project goal is to evaluate what role an ecological trap may have on the potential recovery of the species in the northeast. We have four objectives:

Determine the primary predators on bird eggs and nestlings
Compare abundance and diversity of predators and nest predation rates in wetlands adjacent to regenerating clearcuts and adjacent to unharvested forest
Identify stand- and landscape-level habitat variables that influence nest predation rates between these two habitats
Identify linkages between predation, competition, habitat and other factors such as climate change to permit inferences about the likelihood of recovery for this species across our region.

Location: Various locations throughout Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York

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