Yesterday I celebrated the first day of the Rusty Blackbird Blitz by walking out into the snowy Tivoli Bays to look for a Rusty. I knew full well I would not see one in the still frozen landscape of the bays. Even the Red-winged Blackbirds have not yet returned. Still, I had to go out on snowshoes to roll out the carpet for the Rusty should it decide to stop over later in the spring.
The first time I saw a Rusty Blackbird was three years ago on the muddy causeway of Cruger Island Road. It was the second spring of my bird-obsessed life, when every bird felt a miracle. My friend Peter introduced us: “Look now,” he said, “this is a bird that will be extinct in our lifetime.” What I saw was an ordinary enough bird, black overall, with a bit of brown rust at the nape, and then eyes, white as if they were bottomless. The bird had a grating song, like a squeaky hinge. At that time I doubted Peter’s pronouncement—it felt too full of doom—but research proved he might be right: Rusty populations have plummeted in the past century, with an 88% population reduction. Though scientists estimate that somewhere between 158,00 and 2 million remain, this once abundant bird is in a population free-fall.