This is the first of two posts regarding the Rusty Blackbird, so please watch for the next one tomorrow. The once common species, that sometimes filled the sky during migration over a century ago, has shown both alarming long-term and shocking short-term population losses. It is actually one of the entire continent's fastest declining species. This fact is still not widely known among birders or scientists and until the past decade very little was done to even acknowledge the plight of the Rusty Blackbird, let alone discover the reasons behind it or address these problems. This changed when the International Rusty Blackbird Technical Working Group was formed in February 2005, a group that I am a member of - you can find more information on it here at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center's website: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/migratorybirds/research/rusty_blackbird/
Due at least in part to the group's work, blackbird control practices (the killing of large flocks of blackbird species in certain areas in order to protect agriculture, prevent disease being spread among livestock, etc.) have been reexamined. Effective January 1 the Rusty Blackbird was removed from the federal depredation order on blackbird species. This means they can no longer be killed for control practices without a permit (and no one is going to get one to do so). Further measures were also taken, and they are causing a bit of negative stir from expected sources.
The objections seem to come from the new reporting requirements for birds killed under the order and the new requirement that all shot be non-toxic (not lead). Lead can harm the Rusty Blackbird, as well as the environment and other species in numerous ways, so the legal killing of blackbirds cannot be done via lead shot. More reporting requirements were put in place so that we have a better idea of what/how/when concerning blackbird control efforts as well as ensuring the Rusty Blackbird remains protected. Blackbirds can no longer legally be taken without the appropriate documentation.
There is a short period that Congress can review and nullify these new rules but we hope that will not be the case. If you would like to look over the full details of the new rule, you can find it here: http://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2010/12/02/2010-30288/migratory-bird-permits-removal-of-rusty-blackbird-and-tamaulipas-mexican-crow-from-the-depredation#p-3
So what is next? The third Rusty Blackbird Blitz, January 29-February 13, where scientists and volunteers go into the field to record in detail every Rusty Blackbird they can find, with the results being put into eBird. I will post more information on that tomorrow. I hope you can join us then and help save the Rusty Blackbird!