21 Types Of BLACK BIRDS (ID Guide With Photos)
Did you spot a black bird in your backyard? In that case you’ll probably want to know what species you saw.
Identifying birds that are largely black is not as easy as it might seem, since there are surprisingly many bird species in North America that fit this description.
To help you identify the bird you came across, we’ll cover all the black birds that can be seen in North America.
What are the different types of black birds in North America?
There are 21 different types of black birds in North America, which are covered in full detail below.
Scientific name: Quiscalus mexicanus
Great-tailed Grackles breed across the southern states of the USA, with their northernmost range extending to the southern Midwest.
It is the most common blackbird found in many southern states, and its numbers have steadily increased over the last decades.
Adult males have yellow eyes that stand out against their iridescent dark feathers. Juveniles and adult females are brown on top and lighter brown on the bottom.
One of the best distinguishing features of these small black birds is their extra long, wedge-shaped tail.
Scientific name: Quiscalus quiscula
The Common Grackle is an entirely black-colored bird, making it easy 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.
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 the feathers of their heads, breasts, and necks, as well as other parts of their bodies.
Scientific name: Quiscalus major
Bigger than the Common Grackle, the Boat-tailed Grackle is best identified by its long tail that has a broad end resembling a spatula.
Similar to other grackles, the tail is often folded in the shape of a keel, with the tail margins held higher than the center.
Males have glossy black feathers with a metallic sheen that’s strongest on the head and back.
This black colored bird is a year-round resident in its range, and is most often found in marshy habitats, as well as urban parks.
Scientific name: Euphagus carolinus
The Rusty Blackbird is substantially less of a problem to agricultural activities than some of the other members of its family.
The reason for this is that it breeds in regions that are remote and are located in marshy, non-cultivated areas.
Adult males are uniformly dark colored, while females and juveniles are brownish gray with some dark feathers.
Unfortunately, there has been a dramatic decline in the population of this species, and it is now on the red list of the IUCN.
Scientific name: Agelaius phoeniceus
The Red-winged Blackbird is one of the more common birds in North America. The great thing about these black and red birds is that you can easily distinguish males from females.
Males are completely soot colored except for the bright red patches on their wings. In contrast, females (and juveniles) are dark brown with white spots.
These birds live in open fields near water. It is most often found in marshes, wetlands, and around lakes.
Depending on where it is found, this bird 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.
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.
Adult males are completely charcoal with a purple sheen on the feathers of their head, which fades into a greenish hue on the rest of their body.
In contrast, females and juveniles are a more uniform brown color, with their wings and tails being dark gray.
You can find it in open habitats, such as coastal marshes, grasslands and meadows, but also agricultural and urban areas, such as parks and lawns.
Scientific name: Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
Yellow-headed Blackbirds are breeding birds in northern parts of North America, but also occur throughout the rest of the United States during migration.
Adult male Yellow-headed Blackbirds stand out thanks to their distinctive yellow heads and chests, paired with a jet black body. Females and immatures have drab yellow heads and are dark brown.
Males will often mate with a number of different females during the breeding season, forming small colonies of nests.
Scientific name: Dolichonyx oryzivorus
The Bobolink 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 soot colored, but have a cream colored cap, as well as patches of white on their wings and back.
Females and juveniles are much more inconspicuous. They are brown on top, and pale yellow on the bottom, and they also don’t have a white wing stripe.
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.
Scientific name: Sturnus vulgaris
The European Starling (also known as Common Starling) is a common and highly successful bird across North America. Adult Common Starlings have a uniformly glossy black plumage.
During winter, Common Starlings are 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.
Common Starlings inhabit open country with few trees as their original habitat, but they are also among the most successful urban species, and are especially common in parks and gardens.
Scientific name: Sayornis nigricans
This bird is easily recognizable because of its striking black and white colors.
Adults males and females look similar, and have a sooty back, head and chest, which fades into dark gray towards the rump, and a white belly and under tail region.
Juveniles are broadly similar to adult birds but have brown feather fringes on their wings and back.
This bird is found in the southwestern United States, where it occurs all year round and can be easily observed because it is not afraid of people.
Scientific name: Molothrus ater
Cowbirds are another type of blackbird, but differ in one key characteristic: they are brood parasites.
A brood parasite is a type of bird that doesn’t build nests, 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.
If you see a warbler or other small bird 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 an iridescent ebony body and eye. Females, on the other hand, are dark gray-brown.
Scientific name: Molothrus aeneus
The Bronzed Cowbird is a sturdy bird with a curved, pointed beak. Its name comes from the bronzed sheen on the black plumage of the males.
Similar to Brown-headed Cowbirds, Bronzed Cowbirds are also brood parasites that don’t build their own nest, but instead lay their eggs into the nests of other birds.
Adult males are uniformly dark with a bronze shimmer, and have red eyes. The females are grayish brown.
These birds like to forage for food in large groups, primarily on the ground, where they look for insects and seeds.
You can find Bronzed Cowbirds in open areas, such as farmland and prairie, and more urban areas, such as golf courses.
Scientific name: Corvus brachyrhynchos
This is one of the most easily recognized black birds in North America.
American Crows are entirely charcoal colored, including their beaks, legs, and eyes. Both adults and immatures look very similar and are hard to distinguish from each other.
Crows are also highly intelligent, and happen to be among the most sociable birds in the world, and like to pass their time by harassing other birds.
Similar to vultures and birds of prey, American Crows like to feed on roadkill, but rarely get hit by cars themselves.
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 species, including raptors and owls.
Scientific name: Corvus corax
The Common Raven is a large bird with a wingspan of up to 4.9 feet. In fact, it’s the largest songbird found in North America.
These large black birds mate for life, and an established pair will defend its territory all year round.
As a result of this behavior, they are very rarely observed in flocks, which distinguishes them from other corvids.
The Common Raven is primarily found in the mountainous regions of North America, including the Rocky Mountains. Their preferred habitat is oak forest and mesquite shrubland.
Scientific name: Coragyps atratus
Black Vultures are locally common in the southeastern part of the United States, where they can be seen all year round.
They are almost entirely charcoal colored, except for white wing tips that can be seen from below.
They have a naked head with wrinkled, dark skin. Adult pairs remain in their breeding territories year-round.
In contrast to Turkey Vultures, these black birds of prey don’t have a keen sense of smell. Because of this, they often use Turkey Vultures as “scouts” to find roadkill, and then intimidate the other vulture species to chase them away from the carrion.
Scientific name: Cypseloides niger
Black Swifts are rare breeding birds in western Canada, and in several western states of the US.
These large swifts nest on cliff ledges, and forage for insects high up in the air, where they can be hard to spot.
They spend the winter in the Caribbean and South America, and unfortunately their population has declined dramatically over the past decades.
Scientific name: Anhinga anhinga
The Anhinga looks similar to a cormorant, but has a snake-like neck, which it uses to catch fish underwater.
When it is in the water, it’s common to see only the head and neck protruding above the water surface.
Adult male Anhingas are almost entirely black, while females have a dark brown head and neck, as well as dark body plumage.
It lives in swamps and freshwater ponds, and is a year-round resident in its range.
Scientific name: Haematopus bachmani
The Black Oystercatcher is easy to identify, due to its entirely charcoal plumage combined with a bright orange beak.
These large shorebirds are found along the Pacific Coast, where they frequent rocky shores that have plenty of barnacles and mussels.
They are year-round residents throughout their range and pairs remain together all year round.
Scientific name: Gallinula galeata
The Common Gallinule is a medium-sized marsh bird with surprisingly long legs and toes.
Both the male and female have a charcoal body color 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.
These birds usually remain in close proximity to the protection offered by marsh plants, although they sometimes swim in open water.
Scientific name: Laterallus jamaicensis
The Black Rail is a shy and elusive bird, and coupled with its rarity, this makes it exceedingly difficult to spot.
The best way to identify this elusive rail is by its 3 syllable call, which can be heard at night during the breeding season.
This rail is found in coastal marsh habitats along the East Coast, Florida, and the Gulf Coast.
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 charcoal 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.
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
Scientific name: Chlidonias niger
These agile waterbirds are breeding birds in Canada and the northern US, and can be seen in the rest of the United States during spring and fall migration.
Unlike most other tern species, which are largely white, this tern is almost entirely black, except for its dark gray wings.
This black bird breeds in large freshwater marshes, and feeds on small fish and insects that they catch at the water’s surface. It winters along the coasts of South and Central America.
In summary, here are the 21 black birds covered in this article:
- Great-tailed Grackle
- Common Grackle
- Boat-tailed Grackle
- Red-winged Blackbird
- Rusty Blackbird
- Brewer’s Blackbird
- Yellow-headed Blackbird
- Common Starling
- Black Phoebe
- Brown-headed Cowbird
- Bronzed Cowbird
- American Crow
- Black Vulture
- Common Raven
- Black Swift
- Black Oystercatcher
- Common Gallinule
- Black Rail
- American Coot
- Black Tern
If you’ve spotted one of these birds, but aren’t sure which species it was, check our detailed ID guide with photos above.
If you enjoyed this article, check out our guide to the black birds with red head.