19 Types Of BLACK BIRDS In Illinois (ID Guide & Photos)
Did you recently come across a black bird in the prairie state, and want to know what species it was?
Identifying black birds is not as easy as it might seem, since there are many bird species in Illinois that are either completely black or partially black.
To help you identify the bird you saw, we’ll cover the different blackbird species that can be seen in Illinois, as well as other types of black-colored birds.
What types of black birds can you see in Illinois?
The 19 types of black birds found in Illinois are:
- Red-winged Blackbird
- Common Grackle
- European Starling
- Rusty Blackbird
- Brewer’s Blackbird
- Brown-headed Cowbird
- Eastern Towhee
- Orchard Oriole
- Baltimore Oriole
- Yellow-headed Blackbird
- Great-tailed Grackle
- Eastern Meadowlark
- Scott’s Oriole
- Western Meadowlark
- Bullock’s Oriole
- Common Gallinule
- American Coot
- American Crow
While many of these black-colored birds are year round residents of Illinois, others only occur in the state during the nesting season in summer.
Yet other birds are winter visitors in Illinois, and some are vagrants that only rarely occur in the state of Illinois.
Now let’s dive into the details, and take a closer look at each of these species in order to get the full scoop:
Scientific name: Agelaius phoeniceus
The Red-winged Blackbird is one the most abundant icterids in Illinois, and it is definitely the most common black bird found here during the summer.
The great thing about these Illinois blackbirds is that you can easily distinguish males from females.
Male Red-winged Blackbirds are completely black except for the bright red patches on their wings. In contrast, females (and juveniles) are a blackish brown color with white streaks.
Generally speaking, this blackbird lives in open fields and near water. It is often found in marshes, wetlands, and around lakes.
To find food, the Red-winged Blackbird travels many miles a day, especially outside of the nesting season.
While this blackbird is primarily a seed-eater during fall and spring, it switches to feeding almost exclusively on insects during summer.
Depending on where it is found, the Red-winged Blackbird is either a seasonal migrant (in the north of its range), or a resident (in the south of its range).
Red-winged Blackbirds roost in flocks up to millions of birds strong, creating a deafening noise with their rapidly beating wings.
In spring, male Red-winged Blackbirds are usually the first ones to arrive in order to claim a desirable territory before the females arrive.
During the mating season, the male red-winged blackbird will sing from a conspicuous perch and display the red shoulder patches on his feathers in order to attract the attention of females.
After a female chooses a mate, she builds her nest over shallow water in a thick stand of vegetation. Her chosen mate then aggressively defends the nest against other blackbirds.
The most successful males are bigamous, and can mate with multiple females at the same time.
Red-winged Blackbird song:
The Ok-ra-lee song of a male Red-winged Blackbird is a familiar sound often heard at wetlands across Illinois.
(Source: Manuel Grosselet, XC669259, www.xeno-canto.org/669259)
Scientific name: Quiscalus quiscula
From a distance, a Common grackle seems to be an entirely black bird, making it simple to confuse it with a crow.
But in contrast to a crow, the Common Grackle has a pointed beak that is formed like a cone, as well as eyes that are bright yellow, and a long tail that is shaped like a wedge.
In Illinois it lives in open spaces such as meadows, parks, and fields, as well as suburban and residential regions
Male Common Grackles have shimmering purple coloration on their heads, breasts, and necks, as well as other parts of their bodies.
During the nesting season, the females construct large nests in which they will lay a clutch of about five eggs.
In northern parts of its range, the Common Grackle is a migratory summer visitor, but in Illinois it can be found year round.
It is a member of the New World family of blackbirds, which contains some of the most common birds in North America, many of which like to gather in large flocks and make a lot of noise.
On farms, Common Grackles can congregate in huge flocks to feed on crops and grain, and to roost, which can cause a problem to Illinois farmers.
Because it is such a versatile species, the Common Grackle can thrive in many different environments.
Common Grackle sound:
(Source: Ted Floy, XC365161, www.xeno-canto.org/365161)
European Starling (Common Starling)
Scientific name: Sturnus vulgaris
The European starling is a common and highly successful bird in Illinois.
While European Starlings don’t belong to the blackbird family, adults are uniformly black with a glossy sheen, and so look superficially similar to many blackbirds.
During winter, European Starlings are also covered with light spots, which can be a great characteristic to identify them.
This species is originally from Europe, Asia, and North Africa, but it was introduced to North America and many other parts of the world, where it has established itself as a successful breeding species within a short period of time.
European Starlings inhabit open country with few trees as their original habitat, but they are also among the most successful urban birds, and are especially common in parks and gardens.
While European Starlings nest in tree holes in the wild, they are also known to nest inside buildings and nest boxes in urban settings.
Unfortunately, native birds are sometimes driven out of their nesting sites by competing Starlings.
Similar to grackles and other blackbirds, European Starlings form large flocks outside of the nesting season.
These flocks can contain more than a million birds, and can be seen performing amazing aerial acrobatics.
European Starling song:
(Source: Elias A. Ryberg, XC742495, www.xeno-canto.org/742495)
Scientific name: Euphagus carolinus
The Rusty Blackbird is substantially less of a problem to agricultural activities than some of the other members of the blackbird family.
This is because this blackbird breeds in regions that are remote and are located in marshy, non-cultivated areas.
Adult male Rusty Blackbirds are uniformly black, while females and juveniles are brownish gray.
During the autumn months, the plumage of the male Rusty Blackbird transforms into a drab, rusty brown color.
During the fall migration it is easiest to spot Rusty Blackbirds in Illinois.
This is because this blackbird travels south from its main breeding grounds in Canada, and passes through Illinois in large flocks at this time.
While most Rusty Blackbirds pass through Illinois on their fall and spring migrations, some spend the whole winter, and can be seen in Illinois from September through late April.
The preferred habitat of Rusty Blackbirds is swampland, marshy areas, and the banks of lakes and rivers.
Unfortunately, there has been a dramatic decline in the population of Rusty Blackbirds, and it is now on the red list of the IUCN.
Rusty Blackbird sound:
(Source: Paul Driver, XC468246, www.xeno-canto.org/468246)
Scientific name: Dolichonyx oryzivorus
The Bobolink is another species of blackbird in Illinois.
It is an increasingly rare blackbird that breeds in southern Canada and the northern United States. Its preferred habitat are large fallow fields.
Adult male Bobolinks are mostly black, but have a cream colored cap, as well as patches of white on their wings and back.
Females and juveniles of this blackbird species are much more inconspicuous. They are brown on top, and pale yellow on the bottom, and they also don’t have a white wing patch.
In the spring, the males engage in a conspicuous territorial display known as “helicoptering,” during which they hover in the air and sing voluminously to attract females and establish their territory.
Unfortunately, Bobolink numbers have decreased not just in places where they breed but also in locations where they spend the winter.
This decline is caused by habitat degradation and farming practices that involve haying when these blackbirds are still nesting.
These blackbirds are long distance migratory birds that spend the cold season in Central America.
This blackbird is most commonly spotted in Illinois during fall and spring, when it passes through the state on its migration.
(Source: Jim Berry, XC729869, www.xeno-canto.org/729869)
Scientific name: Euphagus cyanocephalus
In a large portion of its range, the Brewer’s Blackbird appears to choose environments that have been shaped by humans, rather than natural ones.
However, in areas where this blackbird competes with the Common Grackle, it instead prefers more rural areas.
Similar to other blackbird species, Brewer’s Blackbirds like to congregate in large flocks in autumn, and feed on leftover grains found on farmland after the harvest.
The Brewer’s Blackbird is about the size of a robin and has long legs and a long tail. When birds are seated on the ground or perched on a branch, their tails give the appearance of being broadened and rounded.
Adult male Brewer’s Blackbirds are completely black with a purple sheen on their head that fades into a greenish hue on the rest of their body.
In contrast to this, females and juveniles of this blackbird are a more uniform brown color, with their wings and tails being the darkest.
You can find Brewer’s Blackbirds in open habitats, such as grasslands and meadows, but also more urban areas, such as parks and lawns.
Of all the species of blackbirds found in Illinois, the Brewer’s Blackbird is relatively rare, and is mostly observed as a rare passage migrant that can be seen during spring and fall.
Brewer’s Blackbird sound:
(Source: Meena Haribal, XC481215, www.xeno-canto.org/481215)
Scientific name: Molothrus ater
Cowbirds also belong to the blackbird family, but differ in one key characteristic: they are brood parasites.
The Brown-headed Cowbird is the only brood parasite in Illinois. A brood parasite is a bird that doesn’t build its own nest, but instead lays its eggs in the nests of other birds.
Brown-headed Cowbirds have been reported to lay their eggs in the nests of hundreds of other bird species.
Only a few of the host birds targeted by Cowbirds identify the parasitic eggs as alien, and abandon them. Most hosts incubate the Cowbird eggs and raise the resulting nestlings as if they were their own.
If you see a warbler or other small bird in Illinois feeding a young bird twice its size, you can be sure that it’s raising a Cowbird.
Adult male Brown-headed Cowbirds have a chocolate-brown head and a glossy black body. Females, on the other hand, are dull gray-brown.
Cowbirds got their name because they like to follow buffaloes and cattle around in order to eat insects and other small animals that are disturbed by large animals.
This blackbird can be seen in Illinois year-round, though it tends to move around a lot in the non-breeding season searching for food.
Brown-headed Cowbirds typically forage for food on the ground in flocks that also contain other types of blackbirds and starlings.
Brown-headed Cowbird sound: Brown-headed Cowbirds are noisy blackbirds that produce a variety of sounds that include clicking and whistling sounds.
(Source: Thomas Magarian, XC527677, www.xeno-canto.org/527677)
Scientific name: Pipilo erythrophthalmus
Towhees got their name from the characteristic “Tow-hee” cry that both genders use.
While Towhees don’t belong to the blackbird family, male Eastern Towhees are largely black, with rusty-brown sides and a white underside.
However, its back and head are completely black, and depending on your viewing angle, it can look like an entirely black bird.
When the Eastern Towhee takes to the air, white comma-shaped wing patches become visible on the upper side of its wings.
While some Eastern Towhees in the southern coastal states have white eyes, Illinois is home to the red-eyed form of this species.
Although the female incubates the eggs, the male does the heavy lifting when it comes to feeding the young.
The Eastern Towhee, similar to all other species of towhee, forages by making a comical backwards hopping motion with both feet at the same time.
It does this in order to displace leaves and expose the seeds and insects that are concealed under them.
The Eastern Towhee can be found year-round in southern Illinois, while it is a summer visitor in the northern part.
Eastern Towhee sound: The Eastern Towhee is well-known for its characteristic call, which can be memorized with the mnemonic “drink your tea.”
(Source: Christopher McPherson, XC444954, www.xeno-canto.org/444954)
Scientific name: Icterus spurius
This Oriole got its name from its preference for orchards and open woods. It is a summer visitor in Illinois, and is most commonly found in the southern part of the state.
Unlike the females (which are dull yellow Illinois birds), males are a dark orange color with a black head, throat, upper back, wings, and tail.
Young males resemble females in color, and gradually become more and more black over their first two years.
Early in the summer, the Orchard Oriole feeds on insects, but later it will switch to eating wild fruit as they become mature.
After their young have fledged, parent Orioles will bring them to feeding stations (especially if you have a nectar feeder.
Some people mistakenly believe that the Orioles have departed since they do not see them at their feeders very often during the peak of the summer.
However, the birds are still present nearby, but are simply focused on catching insects to bring back to their nestlings.
The Orchard Oriole is one of the birds that gets here very late in the spring and is one of the ones that leaves quite early in the fall.
Orchard Oriole sound:
(Source: Paul Driver, XC651124, www.xeno-canto.org/651124)
Scientific name: Icterus galbula
The Baltimore Oriole is a wonderful singer that is more frequently heard than seen.
Adult males are very conspicuous due to their flaming orange underside, paired with a completely black head and back, as well as a single white band on their otherwise black wings.
Females and immatures are much more drab, and have a brownish yellow coloration.
Baltimore Orioles are readily attracted to feeders that contain orange halves, grape jelly, or nectar.
And similar to Orchard Orioles, parents bring their recently fledged young to a nearby feeder.
This bird favors open spaces such as yards, parks, and woods, and frequently comes back to the same location year after year.
Keep an eye out for Baltimore Orioles in deciduous forests, but not in dense woods. You may encounter them in places like open forests, forest margins, orchards and even backyards.
Due to the fact that they forage high in trees in search of insects, fruit, and flowers, most orioles are more frequently heard than seen.
The Baltimore Oriole is a summer visitor to Illinois, and is one of the latest migratory birds to arrive in spring, and one of the earliest to leave in fall.
Baltimore Oriole sound:
(Source: Christopher McPherson, XC690956, www.xeno-canto.org/690956)
Scientific name: Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
While Yellow-headed Blackbirds are more common throughout the western United States, Illinois is included within the eastern edge of their range.
Adult male Yellow-headed Blackbirds stand out thanks to their distinctive yellow heads and chests, paired with a jet black body.
Females and immatures of this blackbird have drab yellow heads and are dark brown rather than black.
Male Yellow-headed Blackbirds will often mate with a number of different females during the breeding season, forming small colonies of nests.
Outside of the breeding season, Yellow-headed Blackbirds gather into massive flocks, frequently mingling with other species of blackbirds, and feed on leftover grains on farmland.
At this time it is common for this blackbird to forage in fields and spend their winters in open cultivated areas.
During the summer months, they feed mostly on insects and other small invertebrates.
Typically, Yellow-headed Blackbirds breed in lowland areas with wetlands and dense growth of cattails.
In Illinois, this blackbird is most often observed during migration in fall and spring.
Yellow-headed Blackbird sound:
(Source: Thomas Magarian, XC355547, www.xeno-canto.org/355547)
Scientific name: Quiscalus mexicanus
The Great-tailed Grackle is a blackbird species that breeds in the southern states, with its range extending to the north as far as the southern Midwest.
In Illinois, this blackbird species only occurs as a rare vagrant.
Adult males have yellow eyes that stand out against their shimmering black bodies. Juveniles and adult females are dark brown on top and lighter brown on the bottom.
One of the best distinguishing features of these large black birds is their extra long, wedge-shaped tail.
The central part of its tail hangs down, which creates a V-shaped cross section that is highly characteristic for these blackbirds.
Females of this blackbird species have a shorter tail and a smaller body than males, and almost look like a distinct species.
Great-tailed Grackles frequently gather in loud roosts in trees and on telephone wires.
They compete over garbage in urban areas, and peck for food with other blackbird species on fields, golf courses, and lawns.
In the breeding range of this blackbird, breeding and roosting locations are provided by the large trees that border swampland, lagoons, and marshes.
Outside of the breeding season, Great-tailed Grackles forage on open fields and can be found in cultivated areas, as well as urban settings, such as large lawns in parks.
Great-tailed Grackle sound:
(Source: Manuel Grosselet, XC682582, www.xeno-canto.org/682582)
Scientific name: Sturnella magna
This colorful bird spends most of its time foraging on the ground.
The Eastern Meadowlark, like other American lark species, has a short tail and a conical beak that is ideally adapted for gathering seeds and insects on the ground.
During the breeding season, the eastern meadowlark is most apparent because the males proclaim their territories by singing from a high perch or while flying over the ground.
Depending on the area, the eastern meadowlark may be a year-round resident or a visitor at certain times of the year. In Illinois, it can be seen year-round.
The upperparts of adult Eastern Meadowlarks are a light brown with black markings, while the underparts are brilliant yellow, with a jet black V on the chest.
Eastern Meadowlarks are difficult to spot, because they forage on the ground, where they are hidden by vegetation.
Grasslands, farm areas, and moist fields are all suitable habitats for Eastern Meadowlarks, as long as they can locate a territory that is large enough to raise a family.
During the summer months, males sing lovely, melancholy whistles on exposed perches, particularly fence posts.
Eastern Meadowlark song:
(Source: Jim Berry, XC729868, www.xeno-canto.org/729868)
Scientific name: Icterus parisorum
While Scott’s Oriole is most commonly found in the Southwestern part of the United States, it has been recorded as an accidental summer vagrant in Illinois.
Scott’s Oriole is a medium-sized bird that is highly conspicuous due to its flaming yellow underside.
However, only the lower part of this bird is yellow in color. The head, back, breast, tail, and wing of the bird are a stunning jet black color.
A type of iceterid, it is most famously known as the desert or mountain oriole, as it prefers to live in high desert regions or along mountain slopes in Central Mexico and the southern United States.
It frequents both dense oak forests as well as more open landscapes with scattered trees and yucca plants.
The favorite food of this oriole is yucca nectar, and as a result of this, they are on occasion observed at Illinois feeders that offer nectar or sugar water.
Scott’s Oriole song:
(Source: Lauren Harter, XC237175, www.xeno-canto.org/237175)
Scientific name: Sturnella neglecta
The Western Meadowlark closely resembles the Eastern Meadowlark, but is found in more western areas of North America.
And although the two meadowlark species closely resemble each other, and their ranges overlap considerably, they almost never form hybrids.
This species is a favorite among birdwatchers due to the fact that the male likes to sing loudly from a conspicuous perch, or while flying over its territory.
Combined with its striking black and yellow coloration, this makes the Western Meadowlark a pure joy to observe.
The distinct songs of the two species of meadowlark allow for easy differentiation between them.
The Western Meadowlark occurs in Illinois as a rare visitor.
Western Meadowlark song:
(Source: Nicolas Martinez, XC741545, www.xeno-canto.org/741545)
Scientific name: Icterus bullockii
Bullock’s Oriole is another western bird species that can be seen in Illinois as a rare vagrant visitor during the summer.
Adult males are flaming orange coupled with a jet black back and a black neck. They also have a large white patch on the wing, and an orange face with a black throat.
Juveniles and females are more grayish-yellow with orange on their face and chest. Endemic to the western United States, it spends the winter in Mexico.
Bullock’s Oriole forages for food on the upper branches of trees and shrubs, searching for fruits and insects.
You can encounter Bullock’s Orioles in open woodlands close to rivers and streams, as well as in parks and orchards.
Bullock’s Oriole sound:
(Source: Jarrod Swackhammer, XC540560, www.xeno-canto.org/540560)
Scientific name: Gallinula galeata
The Common Gallinule is a marsh bird that is medium in size and has long green legs and toes.
Both the male and female have a charcoal black body with a white stripe running down the side, and their outer tail feathers are also white.
Common Gallinules can swim in the water like ducks or geese, and are also able to walk on top of floating plants. They have a habit of walking in a crouching position and regularly twitching their tail up.
Common Gallinules usually remain in close proximity to the protection offered by marsh plants, although they sometimes swim in open water.
Their favored habitat is found in ponds, marshes, and lakes that have sufficient aquatic plants mixed in with open water. When foraging, they will also undertake excursions to canals and ditches.
In Illinois, the Common Gallinule is a relatively scarce summer visitor breeding in marshes and lakes.
Common Gallinule sound:
(Source: Ricardo Gagliardi, XC470873, www.xeno-canto.org/470873)
Scientific name: Fulica americana
American Coots are regularly observed congregating in huge flocks on open water (especially during migration).
Coots range in color from dark gray to black and have a white beak and forehead, as well as a red eye.
While American Coots are water birds, they don’t have webbed feet like ducks, but instead have broad, lobed toes.
In addition to their ability to swim on top of the water, Coots are also strong divers, and often forage for food on the bottom of shallow lakes and ponds.
Bald Eagles like to prey on Coots, and will try to tire out an individual by repeatedly forcing it to dive until it is too exhausted and gives up
American Coots may be found in a variety of aquatic habitats, including urban park ponds, reservoirs, marshes, and lake shores.
Its nest is a floating platform that is anchored to the surrounding plants.
This bird breeds in northern Illinois, and is only found in southern Illinois during migration in spring and fall.
American Coot sound:
(Source: Paul Marvin, XC665161, www.xeno-canto.org/665161)
Scientific name: Corvus brachyrhynchos
American Crows are large Illinois birds that entirely black, including their beaks, legs, and eyes. Both adults and immature birds look the same.
This is one of the most intelligent birds in the world. It also happens to be one of the most sociable, and it likes to pass the time by harassing other birds.
The American Crow builds a big stick nest in trees, which it likes to reuse for many years. Old crows nests are also used by many other birds, including raptors and owls in Illinois.
Similar to vultures and birds of prey, American Crows like to feed on roadkill, but are rarely hit by cars themselves.
Outside of the breeding season, it forms massive flocks, sometimes topping out at thousands of birds.
American Crows are common in Illinois in open forests and woodlands, as well as farmland and urban areas such as parks, golf courses, and large gardens.
American Crow sound:
(Source: Thomas Magarian, XC543337, www.xeno-canto.org/543337)
What are the most common black birds found in Illinois?
The most common black birds found in Illinois are Red-winged Blackbirds. They are common breeding birds throughout Illinois, as well as regular guests at bird feeders.
Outside of the breeding season they also form large flocks that can number thousands of birds, feeding on leftover grains on harvested fields.
What attracts black birds to your yard?
The top 5 things you can do to attract black birds to your yard are as follows:
- Set up a feeder with sunflower seeds or a seed mix
- Set up a bird bath
- Plant shrubs to provide nesting opportunities
- Plant native fruiting plants
- For attracting orioles, provide a feeder with nectar or grape jelly
What are the biggest black birds in Illinois?
The biggest black songbirds in Illinois are American Crows, which have a wingspan of almost 40 inches, and a weight of up to 21.9 oz.
So if you see a big black bird in the prairie state, you’re probably looking at an American Crow.
However, if you include birds of prey in Illinois, then Turkey Vultures are even bigger black-colored birds in the Prairie State.