I forget what we were looking for at the New Hope Waterfowl Impoundment. I suppose we were probably looking for waterfowl! In any case, I remember it being a cold, crisp yet sunny day in March when we came across a large flock of several hundred blackbirds. Mostly Common Grackles but interspersed amongst them were fifty or so of the much rarer Rusty Blackbirds.
It was hard to get an accurate count. The flock was moving quickly across the trees along the small grass corridor, and the Rusties especially so, being smaller and faster than their raucous cousins. Sometimes though, you could hear that pleasant metallic twang of a Rusty Blackbird in the din, either from high in the trees or from along the wet shore of the impoundment, walking along and overturning leaves for insects as only the Rusties like to do.
|Rusty Blackbird - New Hope Waterfowl Impoundment, NC; 03/09/2010|
It was a decent find – Rusty Blackbirds are one of two Euphagus species in the world, and they are undergoing significant population decline, somewhere in the 85-95% range. Scientists aren’t quite sure why, but habitat destruction and perhaps mercury poisoning seem to shoulder the most blame. In any case, I’m sure there was some time in the past when a flock of several thousand of these small blackbirds was not an unusual sight, but today a flock of fifty seems significant. There may come a day in the near future when you can no longer hear their fine melody on a crisp winter’s day in the
Carolinas… not in my lifetime, I hope, and I pray, not ever.