Black and white birds are a striking sight in the avian world, with their bold and contrasting plumage patterns that catch the eye. North America is home to a diverse range of black and white birds, from woodpeckers to warblers, owls to shorebirds. In this article, we will explore some of the most common and interesting black and white birds found in North America.
22 Black and White Birds
Scientific name: Dolichonyx oryzivorus
Bobolinks are migratory birds that breed in North America, primarily in the grasslands and meadows of the northern United States and Canada. During the winter, they migrate to South America, where they spend the non-breeding season in the grasslands and savannas of countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay.
The males have black feathers with white accents and a yellow patch at the back of their head during the breeding season, while the females are a mixture of brown and yellow. After the breeding season, males shed their black feathers and molt into brown streaks like females. They can be found foraging for seeds and insects in grasslands and meadows. Males are recognized for their unique, bubbly song and airborne displays, where they fly up and sing while hovering.
2. Eastern Kingbird
Scientific name: Tyrannus tyrannus
The Eastern Kingbird is a medium-sized songbird that spends the spring and summer throughout much of the U.S. and Canada. Adult males and females look the same, with a white throat, chest and belly, dark back and head, and white at the tip of the tail. While they have a crown of yellow, red, or orange feathers at the very top of their head, it is usually hidden.
Eastern Kingbirds can be quite aggressive when it comes to defending their nests. They attack any perceived threats, including hawks or herons much larger than themselves. They have been given the scientific name tyrannus (tyrant) for this reason!
Insects, such as flies, bees, wasps, and grasshoppers, make up the majority of the Eastern Kingbird’s diet, which they catch while flying. They also consume some fruits, berries, and seeds. These birds can be found in open habitats like fields, meadows, and the edges of woodlands.
3. American Coot
Scientific name: Fulica americana
American coots can be found throughout North America, from southern Canada to the Caribbean and Central America. They are typically found in freshwater habitats such as marshes, ponds, and lakes, as well as slow-moving rivers and streams with abundant vegetation. During the non-breeding season, they may also be found in saltwater estuaries and coastal lagoons.
The American Coot has a “chicken-shaped” body of all black feathers and dark red eyes. Their legs are greenish-yellow, and they have a white beak with a black tip. Coots are not ducks and have lobed toes rather than webbed feet. Lobed toes can fan out in the water to aid in swimming, but also make it easier for coots to walk on land without waddling like a duck.
4. Black Phoebe
Scientific name: Sayornis nigricans
The Black Phoebe is a small bird found in the west, from southwestern Oregon south to northern Argentina. They are commonly found in open areas near water, such as streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and marshes, and also in urban areas, such as parks, gardens, and golf courses.
Black Phoebes have a black back, tail, head and chest with a white belly. Look for them perching low over water. They will swoop down from their perch to catch insects flying just above the surface. In fact, insects like beetles, grasshoppers, flies, moths, crickets and caterpillars make up most of their diet. Small fish may sometimes be eaten.
5. Black Skimmer
Scientific name: Rynchops niger
Black skimmers are found in the Americas, along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States, throughout Central America, and along the coast of South America. They prefer coastal habitats such as sandy beaches, sandbars, and salt marshes, as well as estuaries, lagoons, and tidal creeks.
These skimmers have black upperparts, white underparts, orange legs, and an orange and black beak. Their most unique feature is their long, narrow bills that are sharply edged, and the lower mandible is longer than the upper one.
Black Skimmers fly low over the water’s surface with their lower bill submerged. Once they detect prey, they snap their bill shut, catching the prey, usually fish, in a swift motion. Their unique feeding behavior is fun to watch for bird and nature enthusiasts. Black Skimmers are also known for their distinctive vocalizations, including barking, chattering, and screaming, which they use for communication and social interaction.
6. Lark Bunting
Scientific name: Calamospiza melanocorys
A truly black and white bird, the male Lark Bunting is black all over with a white bar on each wing. This handsome coloring is his summer breeding plumage. In the fall, he will molt to a streaky brown and look like the females.
Lark buntings are native to the central and western regions of North America. During the breeding season, they are found primarily in the Great Plains of the United States. They typically prefer grassland habitats, including shortgrass prairies, mixed-grass prairies, and sagebrush steppe.
During the winter months, some lark buntings may migrate south to Mexico and the southwestern United States, while others may remain in their breeding range throughout the year. Lark buntings are known to form large flocks during the non-breeding season, often gathering in weedy fields and along roadsides.
Scientific Name: Anhinga anhinga
Anhingas are aquatic birds that inhabit shallow freshwater environments, commonly found near trees, tall grasses, and shrubs, including wetlands, swamps, mangroves, and lagoons. They can be found in parts of North, Central, and South America. In the United States, Anhingas are commonly found year-round in Florida.
Anhingas are easily recognized by their black bodies featuring white wing accents and their elongated snake-like necks. They are known to swim with only their neck visible above the surface, earning them the nickname “snake bird”.
Fish constitute the primary diet of Anhingas, which they catch by swimming slowly underwater before impaling them with their pointed beaks. Anhingas do not have waterproof feathers, despite spending considerable time in the water. After a swim, they perch on the shore or nearby branches and hold their wings out to dry.
8. Black-and-white Warbler
Scientific name: Mniotilta varia
Black-and-white warblers are often easier to spot than most warbler species. They remain lower in trees, creeping along branches and the trunk looking for insects in the crevices of bark. They have a white belly and black-and-white striped body.
Black and white warblers are migratory birds that breed in the northern forests of North America, from Alaska to Newfoundland in Canada, and south to the Appalachian Mountains in the United States. During the winter months, they can be found in the southern parts of North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America. They inhabit deciduous and mixed forests, as well as wooded edges and parks, and are often found foraging for insects on tree trunks and branches.
9. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Scientific name: Pheucticus ludovicianus
Rose-breasted grosbeaks are medium-sized songbirds that are easily recognized by their striking plumage. Males have black and white plumage on their wings and back, a black head and throat, and a distinctive rose-colored patch on their breast. Females have a streaked brown and white plumage, with a white eyebrow stripe and pinkish underparts. Both sexes have a large, pale pink, conical bill, which they use to crack open seeds and fruits.
Rose-breasted grosbeaks breed in the northern parts of North America, from central Canada to the northeastern United States. During the winter months, they migrate to Central and South America, including countries such as Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. They inhabit forests, as well as woodland edges, and are often found perching on the top of trees and singing their melodious song. They forage on insects, seeds, and fruits, and are frequent visitors to backyard bird feeders, especially during their spring and fall migration.
10. American Oystercatcher
Scientific name: Haematopus palliatus
American oystercatchers are black and white shorebirds with a long, thick, bright orange bill. They have distinctive yellow eyes and pink legs. They have a black head and neck, dark brown back and white belly.
American oystercatchers are found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of North America, from Canada down to Mexico. They are commonly found in coastal habitats, including sandy beaches, salt marshes, and tidal flats. They are often seen foraging along the shoreline, using their powerful bill to pry open mollusks like clams and oysters, as well as crabs and other small invertebrates. During the breeding season, they form monogamous pairs and nest on the ground, often in sandy or rocky areas along the shore.
11. Downy Woodpecker
Scientific name: Dryobates pubescens
Downy woodpeckers are common throughout most of North America, from Alaska to Mexico. They are also the smallest species of woodpeckers in North America. Downy’s have a black and white striped pattern on their back, wings, and head, with a white belly and white spots on their wings. Males have a small red patch on the back of their head. They are similar in appearance to the larger hairy woodpecker, but can be distinguished by their smaller size and shorter bill.
Adaptable birds, Downy’s can be found in both deciduous and coniferous forests, as well as mixed forests. They feed primarily on insects, including beetles, ants, caterpillars, and spiders, which they extract from tree bark. During the winter months, they may also feed on seeds and berries.
Downy woodpeckers readily visit backyard bird feeders. They love suet but also eat a variety of seeds like sunflower seeds, millet, and peanuts. You may even see them visiting your hummingbird feeder, where their small beak allows them access to the sugar water.
12. Hairy Woodpecker
Scientific name: Dryobates villosus
Hairy woodpeckers are medium-sized black-and-white woodpeckers with a relatively long, chisel-like bill. They have a black and white striped pattern on their back, wings, and head, with a white belly and white spots on their wings. They are similar in appearance to the smaller downy woodpecker, but can be distinguished by their larger size and longer bill. Males have a small patch of red on the back of their head.
Hairy woodpeckers are found throughout most of North America, from Alaska down to Central America. They are commonly found in mature deciduous and mixed forests, as well as wooded suburban areas. Hairy’s prefer larger trees than the downy woodpecker, such as oak, hickory, and maple. They feed primarily on insects, including beetles, ants, caterpillars, and spiders.
Hairy’s can also be attracted to backyard feeders, but may not visit as readily as the smaller Downy.
13. Common Loon
Scientific Name: Gavia immer
In the winter, the common loon can be found along coastal North America with gray and white plumage. They remain off-shore and dive for fish. However in the summer, they transform into stunning black and white plumage and head inland for clear freshwater lakes across Alaska, Canada and the very northern regions of the United States such as the Great Lakes and New England.
Loons are fast and powerful swimmers, but unable to support their body weight on land due to the location of their legs at the back of their body. Chasing and catching fish is their strong suit. They only come ashore to breed and hatch their eggs.
Even taking to the sky is a bit of a challenge, and they require a long “run-way” between 30 yards to a quarter-mile of open water to pick up speed before they can take to the sky.
14. Black-throated Gray Warbler
Scientific name: Setophaga nigrescens
The black-throated gray warbler is a small, strikingly patterned songbird. Their head has large black and white stripes, a gray back, white underparts with black side streaks, and dark wings with white wing bars. Small yellow spots in front of the eye provide the only color.
Black-throated gray warblers breed in montane coniferous forests of western North America, from southern Alaska to California and east to Montana and Wyoming. During migration and winter, they can be found in a variety of habitats, including oak woodlands, riparian areas, and brushy scrublands.
These warblers primarily feed on insects, including caterpillars, spiders, and beetles, which they glean from the branches and foliage of trees and shrubs. They may also eat some berries and seeds, particularly during the non-breeding season.
15. Snow Bunting
Scientific name: Plectrophenax nivalis
Snow buntings breed in the arctic, nesting deep in cracks and rock cavities. Breeding males have a snowy white body and head with black on their wings and back, while females look similar with brown streaks instead of black.
For the non-breeding season they head south to areas of Canada and the northern half of the U.S. During this time they appear much less white, with rusty brown feathers appearing on their head, shoulders, chest and back. This coloring helps them blend in very well with the ground, where they like to forage among cut crop fields and beach / lakeshores.
16. Black-necked Stilt
Scientific Name: Himantopus mexicanus
Black-Necked Stilts are long-legged birds that live in ponds, marshes, and mudflats where there are plenty of aquatic invertebrates, snails, small fish and fly larvae to eat. They have a thin black and white body balanced atop long, pink legs. Long legs help these birds easily wade through muddy waters in search of food.
Black-necked stilts are found in various wetland habitats throughout much of North and South America. They are commonly found in the western United States, particularly in California, as well as along the Gulf Coast, the eastern seaboard, and the Caribbean. In their range, they are year-round residents in some areas but may migrate seasonally to breed or overwinter in others.
17. Red-bellied Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes carolinus
Red-bellied Woodpeckers are found in wooded areas throughout the eastern United States, from the Midwest to the Atlantic coast. They prefer mature forests, but can also be found in suburban areas with large trees, parks, and orchards. These woodpeckers are omnivores, feeding on a variety of insects, nuts, fruits, and seeds. They are cavity nesters and often create holes in dead or dying trees for their nests.
Red-bellies have a striking appearance with black and white spotted wings, white underparts, and a red patch at the back of their neck. The bill is long, straight, and chisel-like, and it is used for drilling into wood to find food or create cavities for nesting. These woodpeckers are known to visit backyard feeders for peanuts and suet.
18. Wood Stork
Scientific name: Mycteria americana
Wood storks are large wading birds found in the southeastern United States, including Florida, as well as parts of Central and South America. They have a distinctive appearance with a bald, black head and a long, thick bill that curves downward. They also have long legs and broad wings, and their plumage is mostly white with black flight feathers. During breeding season, they may have some dark feathers on their necks and backs.
Wood storks live in a variety of wetland habitats, including freshwater and saltwater marshes, swamps, and wet prairies. They are dependent on the availability of shallow water with a good supply of fish and other aquatic prey. Wood storks are listed as a threatened species in the United States due to habitat loss and degradation, but conservation efforts have helped stabilize their populations in some areas.
19. Acorn Woodpecker
Scientific name: Melanerpes formicivorus
Acorn woodpeckers have a red patch on their head, but are otherwise all black and white. They have a white eye and white ring around an otherwise black head which gives them a distinctive looking face. Their back and wings are black, with a white belly and streaky black chest.
Acorn woodpeckers live in oak woodlands and forests, and they are found throughout the western parts of North America, from southern Oregon to Panama. They are also found in parts of the Caribbean.
As their name suggests, acorn woodpeckers have a unique relationship with acorns. They are known for storing acorns in holes that they drill into trees, telephone poles, and buildings. They may store thousands of acorns in a single tree or location, creating a communal “granary” that is used by multiple individuals.
20. Dark-eyed Junco
Scientific name: Junco hyemalis
The Dark-eyed Junco has many color variations across its range, with the slate-color being the most common. Technically a dark gray, many people think they look black in certain lighting. They have a dark body with a white belly and short, pink beak.
Dark-eyed Juncos are found across North America, particularly in the northern parts of the continent. They breed in Canada and Alaska, then become widespread across the U.S. during the winter months. Their varied diet includes seeds, insects, and occasionally fruits and berries. During the winter months, they are known to frequent backyard bird feeders, particularly those stocked with seeds.
21. Black-billed Magpie
Scientific name: Pica hudsonia
The Black-billed Magpie has bold black and white coloring, with dark iridescent green and blue on the wings and white wing-tips visible in flight. They are found throughout western North America, from Alaska to Mexico. They inhabit a variety of habitats, including forests, open woodlands, farms, and urban areas.
As omnivores, black-billed magpies have a varied diet that includes insects, small mammals, eggs, fruits, and carrion. They are opportunistic feeders and will scavenge for food whenever possible. They are known for their habit of caching food items, such as acorns or insects, on the ground or in trees for later consumption.
Magpies have a reputation for being thieves, as they are known to steal shiny objects such as jewelry, coins, and even car keys. However, recent studies suggest that this behavior is not due to a love for shiny objects but rather a way to decorate their nests to attract mates.
22. Snowy Owl
Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
Snowy owls have a wintering range throughout most of Canada, but this owl has been coming further and further south into the United States each year during the winter. The amount of owls and location in the U.S. can vary quite a bit year to year. Look for them on the ground on snowy beaches, or perched out in the open.
Snowy owls migrate far north to arctic regions of Canada and Greenland to breed during the summer. They will hunt their favorite summer food, lemmings, all hours of the day. These iconic owls have unique black and white plumage. Males tend to be more pure white with only a few spots, while females keep an all-white face but their body is heavily spotted and barred.
Melanie is an environmental scientist, birdwatcher, and amateur photographer. She’s been a birding hobbyist for years and loves feeding and learning about birds of all types. Over the years, Melanie has identified more than 250 bird species, with sightings of the Atlantic Puffin, Hawaiian Goose, and Arctic Tern among her most cherished.