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Rusty Blackbirds are medium-sized forest birds. During the breeding season (May to July), males are uniformly black with a faint greenish gloss on the body. Females are slate grey without gloss. In fall and winter, males and females show rusty brown feathers on the head, back and chest.

Weight: 45 to 80 g (1.6 to 2.8 oz)   
Length: 21 to 25 cm (8.2 to 9.8 in)   

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Rusty Blackbirds live in the boreal forest of the Northwest Territories from early May to mid-October. They typically congregate into flocks in the fall and migrate to the south and east-central United States.

Range map information

Rusty Blackbirds live throughout the boreal forest, and in wetland areas during the breeding season and migration. They breed near open water in treed wetlands (bogs, fens and swamps), often in loose colonies. Rusty Blackbirds primarily nest in small spruce trees.

Rusty Blackbirds rely almost exclusively on aquatic insects and larvae for food, particularly dragonfly nymphs. Rusty Blackbirds can accumulate high levels of mercury contamination through the insects they eat.


This formerly abundant species has seen steep population declines since the early 20th century, including a decline of 66-80% from 1970 to 2014. It appears the pattern of long-term decline may have moved towards a stable trend over the last decade. The population trend in the Northwest Territories is uncertain but there are some indications of a possible decline based on Breeding Bird Surveys.

Potential threats in the Northwest Territories include activities that change their forest and wetland habitats such as forest clearing, changes in surface water levels or flow patterns, and wetlands drying as a result of climate change. 

Other potential threats include mercury in wetlands, deposited from the atmosphere and released by melting permafrost, and human activities resulting in declining food sources and increased numbers of predators.

In their southern range, Rusty Blackbirds are affected by blackbird control programs associated with farming.

Rusty Blackbirds are not protected by the Migratory Birds Convention Act, but the Northwest Territories Wildlife Act protects Rusty Blackbird nests and eggs from disturbance.

COSEWIC assessed the status of Rusty Blackbirds in Canada as Special Concern in 2006 and again in 2017. Rusty Blackbirds were listed as a species of Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2009. A national management plan for Rusty Blackbirds is available on the federal Species at Risk Public Registry.

Dehcho Gwich'in Inuvialuit North Slave / Tłı̨chǫ Sahtú South Slave