Solitary Rusty Blackbird Flicking Its Tail

On a barely cool, cloudy, gray afternoon, with brown leaves thick on the ground and some still in the trees, the neighborhood seemed unusually quiet, even for this time of year. A few small birds were foraging in the faded grass of yards – Chipping Sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers, House Finch, an Eastern Bluebird here and there. In the trees, I heard a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, and a few Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice, but not as many as usual.

A Northern Flicker hitched its way backwards down the trunk of an oak, quiet except for the scratching sound of its claws on the bark. A little further on, one solitary blackbird sat in the top of a bare-limbed pecan tree, calling churk over and over. Each time it called, it flicked its tail. Though my view in the gray light wasn’t good, I could see the shape of a medium-size blackbird with a slender bill, pale yellow eyes and a faint rusty color on the nape and back – a Rusty Blackbird. It appeared to be completely alone, no other blackbirds around that I could see or hear – though there may have been many not far away. A fairly large flock of Common Grackles, Rusty Blackbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds is frequently around.

On other occasions, I have noticed the flicking of a Rusty Blackbird’s tail as it calls. This is not often mentioned or highlighted in field guides, but in the species account for Rusty Blackbird in Birds of North America Online I found this note: “Call notes are accompanied by rapid down and up flicking of the tail.”*

I don’t know that this is a dependable identification tip for a Rusty Blackbird – other birds do this, too. But it was interesting to me, to confirm that it is a characteristic behavior.

* Michael L. Avery. 1995. Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.) Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Leave a Reply