Breeding Bird Atlas 2 Species Accounts

Rusty Blackbird

Euphagus carolinus

  • Very local, trend not established
“Pack up all my care and woe, / Here I go, singing low: / Bye, bye, blackbird.” Mort Dixon & Ray Henderson, “Bye Bye Blackbird”

The Rusty Blackbird – the rarest and most reclusive of our breeding blackbirds – is something of an oddball among its peers, eschewing fields and suburbs for the seclusion of forested bogs. The Rusty Blackbird is a marginal breeder in the Bay State, and the Atlas 2 results offer little hope that the species is expanding. Although national efforts are underway to better understand this species, at present the Rusty Blackbird is poorly known and very local as a breeder in Massachusetts.

Historic Status

The early story of the “Rusty Grackle” in Massachusetts is the same as the story of the Rusty Blackbird today. A breeder in the far north and a winterer in the south, Rusty Blackbirds passed through the state primarily on the way to and from their breeding and wintering grounds. “On their way north, they are in haste, having an immense distance to travel,” wrote William Peabody. “On their return, they are more deliberate, and are seen in the field in large flocks, keeping company with the cattle” (Peabody 1839), a trait that makes them sound like the Cow Buntings of old, which are today known as Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Atlas 1 Distribution

Confined entirely to the Berkshire Highlands as a breeding species, Rusty Blackbirds were nonetheless present and Confirmed at multiple sites in Atlas 1. Though the birds favored high-altitude out-of-the-way spruce bogs, intrepid Atlas volunteers were still able to find a few Rusty Blackbirds busy ensuring the future of the species. In fact, the first nest ever found of this species in Massachusetts was collected from a swamp in Savoy Mountain State Forest in 1977 during an Atlas 1 survey.

Atlas 2 Distribution and Change

Concern for this species has been amplified during the last 10 years, as wintering and breeding estimates seem to be crashing. While Massachusetts has never supported a robust breeding population of this species, even our existing fringe population seems to have been extirpated during the Atlas interval. There were only a few reports during Atlas 2, and none were Confirmed.


Atlas 1 Map

Atlas 2 Map

Atlas Change Map


Ecoregion Data

 Atlas 1Atlas 2Change
Ecoregion# Blocks% Blocks% of Range# Blocks% Blocks% of RangeChange in # BlocksChange in % Blocks
Taconic Mountains00.
Marble Valleys/Housatonic Valley00.00.012.625.012.6
Berkshire Highlands47.3100.023.650.0-2-3.8
Lower Berkshire Hills00.
Vermont Piedmont00.
Berkshire Transition00.
Connecticut River Valley00.
Worcester Plateau00.
Lower Worcester Plateau00.
S. New England Coastal Plains and Hills00.
Boston Basin00.
Bristol and Narragansett Lowlands00.
Cape Cod and Islands00.
Statewide Total40.4100.040.4100.0-1-0.1


The Rusty Blackbird shows a significant decreasing Breeding Bird Survey trend in the Eastern US overall.