Conservation status Although its remote breeding range and swampy winter habitat make it difficult to census, some scientists believe that the total population of this species may have declined by more than 80 percent in recent decades.
Family Blackbirds and Orioles
Habitat River groves, wooded swamps; muskeg in summer. Breeds in the muskeg region, in wet northern coniferous forest with many lakes and bogs. During migration and winter, favors areas with trees near water, as in wooded swamps and riverside forest; will also forage in open fields and cattle feedlots with other blackbirds.
Birders might say that this blackbird is rusty because it spends so much time in the water. In migration and winter it is usually in swampy places, wading in very shallow water at the edges of wooded streams. In summer it retires to northern spruce bogs; no other blackbird has such a northerly breeding distribution. The name 'Rusty' applies to the colors of fall birds, but it could also describe the rusty-hinge sound of the creaking song.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly by walking on wet ground or wading in shallow water. May be solitary or in flocks. May join flocks of other blackbirds and feed with them in dry fields.


4-5, sometimes 3-6. Pale blue-green, spotted with brown and gray. Incubation is by female only, probably about 14 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 11-14 days after hatching.


Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 11-14 days after hatching.


Mostly insects and seeds. Majority of annual diet is insects, including many aquatic insects such as caddisflies, mayflies, dragonflies, and water beetles, plus land insects such as grasshoppers and others. Also eats snails, crustaceans, small fish, small salamanders. Eats many seeds and waste grain, especially in winter, also a few berries.


Sometimes nests in small, loose colonies, but more typically in isolated pairs. Male gives harsh, grating song in spring, to defend nesting territory or to attract a mate. Nest site is in dense cover, usually in conifer or in shrubs above the water; placed very low, typically only a few feet above water or ground, but can be up to 20' high in coniferous tree. Nest (built by female) is a bulky open cup of twigs and grass, often with foundation of Usnea lichens, the inner bowl shaped of mudlike decaying plant material from the forest floor; lined with fine grass.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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Migrates relatively late in fall and early in spring. Strays appear in the West and Southwest most often in late fall.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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Songs and Calls

Like the squeaks of a rusty gate; call note a sharp check.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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