The Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus) breeds across the boreal forest zone of North America and winters throughout the eastern United States. Over the past four decades, the North American Breeding Bird Survey and the Christmas Bird Count have shown high rates of population decline ranging from approximately 5 to 12% per year. Regional surveys suggest declines and range retractions in the southern boreal zone. Analyses of historical accounts suggest that the Rusty Blackbird's abundance has been dropping steadily for over a century. A number of hypotheses have been proposed to explain the decline. The species relies on wooded wetlands throughout the year, so loss and degradation of these habitats—particularly in the winter range—is a prime suspect. Blackbird-control programs may have contributed. In recent decades, habitat disturbance, global warming, and environmental contamination in the boreal zone may have taken their toll on breeding populations. In 2005, the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group was formed to develop research efforts toward understanding the mysterious decline. This special section presents the group's research findings—the first on the species' use of breeding and winter habitat, reproductive success, parasite prevalence, patterns of molt, and migratory connectivity. Data on the levels of methylmercury in tissues and the role of timber management on reproductive success are intriguing. We outline research needed for assessment of the roles of various factors in causing the decline of the Rusty Blackbird.
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Vol. 112 • No. 4