Watching Rusty Blackbirds

Our flock of about 200 Rusty Blackbirds is still in the neighborhood. This morning – a peaceful, cold, clear day – they were spread out across some grassy yards, under bare-limbed pecan trees, and I was able to get closer to them than usual and spent several minutes watching them. They all seemed to be Rusties. I saw no Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds or others. They were relatively quiet, just making smacking calls to each other as they hunted busily in the grass.

Although at first glance they just look like “blackbirds,” a closer look shows a lot of variation in coloring, and many individual birds are distinctive – which makes them fun to watch. The glossy black males have startlingly pale, yellow eyes, and most show some degree of rusty coloring across their back and shoulders that glows in the sunlight. The females show more variations in the patterns and shades of their tawny plumage, but all have the characteristic dark eye patch and pale streak over the eye – and altogether they have a much more nuanced and interesting appearance than the males.

I still don’t know if there are Brewer’s Blackbirds among them. It’s possible. A few of the females did not appear to have pale eyes, and a few of the males looked very iridescent and showed no rusty coloring – but that might have been a trick of the light.

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