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The rusty blackbird may vanish from the Adirondacks. Photo: Larry Master, used with permission
The rusty blackbird may vanish from the Adirondacks. Photo: Larry Master, used with permission

Iconic Adirondack birds face sharp decline

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A new study is raising alarm about the future of some of the Adirondack Park's most iconic birds. The report from the Wildlife Conservation Society's Adirondack Program found sharp decline among six bird species that live in the Park's boreal wetlands.

Michale Glennon is the group's science director and her study was published this month in the journal Northeastern Naturalist. Glennon told Brian Mann that some of these birds may eventually vanish from the North Country, pressured by habitat loss, pollution and climate change.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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Black-backed woodpeckers are turning up at half of sites in the Park where they once nested. Photo: Larry Master, used with permission
Black-backed woodpeckers are turning up at half of sites in the Park where they once nested. Photo: Larry Master, used with permission
Glennon's study found alarming declines, particularly among three boreal bird species in the Adirondacks.

"The ones that capture my attention the most are the ones that seem to be declining most rapidly," Glennon said.  She pointed in particular to the black-backed woodpecker, the rusty blackbird, olive sided flycatcher, and the grey jay.

Glennon says roughly 60 sites were surveyed over a period of years and during the test period the number of occupied wetlands declined sharply. 

"The black-backed woodpecker when we began the study was in something like 85 percent of the sites we looked at. It's now in closer to half the sites we used to find it in. It's just getting harder and harder to find some of these guys."

Brian Mann: Why? What is your conclusion about what's causing this?

They are icons of a habitat that we have in the Adirondacks that gives us emotionally a connection to something that is very, very northern.
Michale Glennon: The rusty blackbird is a perfect example. It is a short-distant migrant, so it goes down to the southern United States, where it faces urbanization and habitat loss. But it's also a species
Michale Glennon is science coordinator for the Adirondack Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society, based in Saranac Lake. Photo: Brian Mann
Michale Glennon is science coordinator for the Adirondack Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society, based in Saranac Lake. Photo: Brian Mann
that tends to flock up with other species that are going to be the target of blackbird control programs. It's also a bird that makes use of a lot of invertebrate food resources that have a lot of mercury contamination. The combination of many of those things is probably impacting rusty blackbird.

BM: What about climate change?

MG: I think that unfortunately we're going to see range contraction for these birds, as has been seen for species all over the globe for all kinds of ecosystems. They're going to contract toward their core in boreal Canada.

Click Listen above to hear more of Brian Mann's conversation with WCS researcher Michale Glennon.

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