An area of intense study is how will plants and animals adapt to warming temperatures. An important question for scientists and birders alike is which birds will be able to adapt to changes in temperature and habitat, and which ones will struggle and need to go elsewhere if they are to survive. Two birds in our area which have been of special attention are the Bicknell’s Thrush and Rusty Blackbird.

Bicknell’s Thrush (photo by Phillip Kenny ) is a shy and uncommon bird that migrates to the higher mountains of Eastern New Hampshire and Western Maine. These birds breed in the scrub habitat that hikers know as Krummholz. Krummholz means “crooked wood.” This zone starts at about 4,000 feet as you move above tree line. Bicknell’s thrive in this unique setting. But, as temperatures have gone up, so does the line at which the Krummholz, the Bicknell’s habitat, begins. The fear is that in our area, the birds will run out of room as the Krummholz zone disappears. Because of these concerns, the Bicknell’s is considered highly vulnerable.

Rusty Blackbirds (photo by Melissa McMasters), another highly vulnerable bird, nests a bit lower than the Bicknell’s. Rustys are a yellow-eyed blackbird – about the size of our Red-winged Blackbird. The Rusty, however, has evolved to breed and thrive in bogs on higher slopes than other black birds in our area.  Western Maine has good habitat, but their population is falling.

Both of these birds are a focus of study for scientists. One of those scientists is Dr. Amber Roth an Assistant Professor at the University of Maine. Recently, observers have begun to notice that something seems to have changed with these two birds. Bicknell’s and Rustys may be using the same spruce-fir stands for breeding. Historically, they do not overlap. Dr. Roth’s team is conducting research to confirm this trend and understand if this is a sign of birds adapting. The results could provide hope and guide conservation efforts in the future. To learn more, read the article titled What’s the Attraction which appeared last year in UMaine Today. It can be found at: https://umainetoday.umaine.edu/stories/2019/whats-the-attraction/. Both the Bicknell’s and Rustys spend their winters much further south. But, to ensure that they continue to return to our area for many years to come we to help make sure the high elevation Krummholz, bogs and spruce-fir stands continue to be available.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or at www.mahoosuc.org. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to [email protected]

Bicknells thrush. Phillip Kenny

Rusty blackbird Melissa McMasters

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