Rusty Blackbird Call – Notes from the Field

Over the past few months I have thought about posting on tidbits I learn while “out in the field” birding. I sort of started this awhile back with “things I learned this week“. But I slowly drifted away from those posts. Lately though I’ve being either discovering or re-discovering things I think might help other birders. So periodically I’ll throw out “Notes from the Field”. The first installment will be the Rusty Blackbird call.

I had to go back a few years to get a photo of a perched Rusty Blackbird – April 2011. Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

I go with Sibley’s distinction between songs and calls. Songs are the most distinctive vocalization of most species, the ones they use for territory and mating. Calls are generally shorter and simpler. Most species have numerous calls for different communication purposes. (The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western America – page 14 – Learning Songs and Calls)

Rusty Blackbird Call
A flock of Rusty Blackbirds at Atterbury FWA from April 2014.

Last weekend I was at my favorite marsh area looking for Wilson’s Snipe. I found the snipe and continued walking the perimeter. Since the day felt like early spring, Red-winged Blackbirds were singing and making their calls.

Sibley describes the Red-winged Blackbird’s call a low chek. Patterson* a loud check. I described it in my notebook as a soft zchip.

How would you describe it?

I was by cattails when I heard a different call. A loud chup. My first thought was an odd Red-winged Blackbird but that didn’t seem right. I heard the call a few more times and finally spot the bird. A Rusty Blackbird on a nearby treetop. I had been looking mid-level so had missed it. If it had been doing its odd song I would have recognized it sooner.

Sibley doesn’t describe a Rusty Blackbird call. Patterson has it as a loud chack. Do you agree with Sibley, Patterson, or me? Or have your own thoughts on the call sound?

The Rusty called a few more times and headed out. I made a few notes to make sure I had details of the encounter and moved on.

I’m not sure if I ever knew the Rusty Blackbird call or had forgotten it since I rarely encounter one. Either way I’ll hopefully remember the call sooner on our next meeting.

* – Patterson Field Guides – Eastern Birds – Roger Tory Patterson

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