Rare Blackbirds Appearing in Maine


Rare blackbirds spotted in Maine
For the third year, rusty blackbirds show up in the Unity Bird Count
as well as in Blue Hill and Portland.

Blethen Maine News Service
January 22, 2008

WHEN: Dec. 14, 2007
WHERE: Covered a 15-mile radius
SPOTTED: 2,631 birds; 44 species, including 440 black- capped
chickadees, 400 European starlings and three bald eagles

UNITY — Reports of the rusty blackbird’s demise may have been greatly

Bird watchers who took part in the annual Christmas Bird Count in the
Unity area last month once again came across the rare songbirds.

That was surprising, since the species is believed to have dwindled
in number by 90 percent during the past 20 years and historically
comes no closer to Maine than New Jersey in the winter, said David
Potter, a Unity College professor who has led the Unity Bird Count
for 11 years.

“This is the third year we’ve seen (rusty blackbirds) at Unity
College,” Potter said. “Some of the experts are surprised they’re
wintering in Unity, Maine.”

According to the National Audubon Society, rusty blackbirds migrate
north in the spring, settle into nests near still water, then migrate
to southeastern states in the late fall.

Until recently, rusty blackbirds had never been seen in Maine during
the December count, Potter said.

In addition to the four seen in the Unity Bird Count, rusty
blackbirds were found in Blue Hill and Portland. Scientists are
unsure why the birds’ migration habits have changed.

“Maybe they’re moving northward,” Potter said. “Maybe it’s an
indication of habitat change or climate change.”

The shifting patterns could mean that the birds are not decreasing in
numbers, Potter said.

“It’s not necessarily that the rusty blackbirds are decreasing at
these rates,” he said. “But they’re not being reported in their usual
breeding grounds.”

The National Audubon Society organized the bird counts between Dec.
14 and Jan. 5 throughout the country.

The Unity Bird Count, which is centered near the Route 202 bridge
over Sandy Stream, was held on Dec. 14. Thirty-eight counters fanned
out over a 15-mile radius for 10 hours, cataloguing every bird that
crossed their paths.

The count included a total of nearly 180 driving miles and 16 miles
walking. Counters found 2,631 birds, from 44 species, led by a total
of 440 black-capped chickadees.

The statistics are collected from around the country and posted on
the National Audubon Society’s Web site (audubon.org), where everyone
from casual observers to influential ornithologists looks for trends.

Unity’s observers were surprised by the number of empty and missing
bird feeders, Potter said. Surveyors use a variety of methods to
locate birds, from walking through the woods to driving along back

Private bird feeders also are a valuable tool for counters, Potter
said, but this year more bird feeders than ever were found empty.

“Some of the spots had feeders still hanging there, but there was no
feed in them,” Potter said.

He speculated that poor economics, a deep snow pack and an aging
population of bird-feeder keepers may be responsible for the decline.

Regardless, it is unlikely that birds have been affected by the
dearth of readily available food.

“They’ll use what’s available, but if you stop feeding them, they’ll
go somewhere else,” Potter said.


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