If you’ve found this article, you may be trying to identify a bird that you saw based on its coloration. Black birds with blue heads is a commonly searched description, and in this article we will discuss 7 species found in North America to help you narrow it down.
Black Birds with Blue Heads
When it comes to color combinations of North American birds, there aren’t that many that fit the description of a black body and blue head. In fact, there really is only one that is a good match, the Common Grackle. The other birds we have on this list are grackles, blackbirds, martins, starlings and cowbirds that have beautiful, glossy, dark iridescent plumage. These iridescent birds are a mix of midnight greens, blues, and purples. The appearance of these birds can change quite a bit depending on how bright it is outside and how much light is directly shining on them. In certain lighting, their colors may be very obvious, while in direct sun they may all combine to look black.
Let’s jump right into the list with the Common Grackle.
1. Common Grackle
Scientific Name: Quiscalus quiscula
Most of the time when people are talking about a black bird with a blue head, they are referring to a Common Grackle.
The Common Grackle features iridescent feathers, and males are usually glossier and more colorful than the female. In direct sunlight these birds often look black. In the right light however, you can see they have dark bronzy bodies with blue heads and wings in shades of green, blue or purple. The Common Grackle has a yellow eye, long legs, a long tail and slender body. They are common year-round in the eastern half of the U.S., and many head further west and north to breed in the summer.
Common Grackles are noisy and sometimes thought of as obnoxious when they show up in large groups. They hang out with other types of grackles, blackbirds, cowbirds, and starlings, and nest in forests, grasslands, swamps, and marshes. They typically feed off the ground, searching for seeds, grains and insects. But the Common Grackle will also eat seeds, berries, lizards, frogs, and even small birds and rodents.
Grackles are known to visit backyard bird feeders and can become a nuisance, hogging all the food and becoming aggressive with smaller birds.
2. Purple Martin
Scientific name: Progne subis
Male Purple Martins sometimes fall under the description of black birds with blue heads. They have brownish-black wings and tail, but their head, chest and upper back are a deep blue with a purple iridescence. These members of the swallow family are native to North America. In fact, they are the largest swallow in North America, and their distinctive coloring makes them easy to identify.
Females have similar coloring but are a lot duller, and show gray on the head, chest and belly. Purple Martins are known for their aerial acrobatics and are often seen swooping and diving through the air to catch insects, which make up the majority of their diet. Their preferred habitats include open fields, meadows, and wetlands where flying insects are plentiful.
Purple Martins typically nest in colonies in man-made birdhouses or gourds, or other cavities in cactus, cliffs, trees or even buildings. If you’ve ever seen a large birdhouse on a tall pole that has several openings, that is a Purple Martin house!
3. Great-Tailed Grackle
Scientific Name: Quiscalus mexicanus
More slender than the Common Grackle, the male Great-Tailed Grackle has long legs, a flat head, and a V-shaped tail that’s almost as long as his body. He sports a dark iridescent plumage from head to toe that often looks black, but is actually shades of purple and blue. Often their wings and tail can look very dark while their head appears indigo or navy. Females are dark brown in color, and smaller than males.
Great-tailed grackles can be found throughout much of the southwestern United States, Texas, parts of California, the mid-west, Mexico and Central America. Great-tailed grackles are often seen in urban and suburban areas, such as parking lots, parks, and neighborhoods, where they scavenge for food and build their nests in trees, shrubs, and other structures.
They are considered one of America’s fastest-expanding species, moving further and further north in the center of the country following irrigated crop land and urban development. They prefer open land and access to water, so you won’t often find them in heavy forest or desert habitat. Corn, oats, sorghum, fruits and insects make up a large part of their diet. They may even wade into shallow water for tadpoles, frogs, and small fish.
4. Boat-Tailed Grackle
Scientific Name: Quiscalus major
Our last grackle on the list is the Boat-Tailed Grackle. Males feature a glossy, dark iridescent plumage that shows shades of blue, purple and green in the light. Adults feature a large body with long legs, a pointed bill, and a V-shaped tail that resembles the keel of a boat, earning its name. They do bear a strong resemblance to the Great-tailed Grackle, but have slightly less flourish in their tails and are associated much more heavily with coastal areas. Boat-tailed Grackles in Florida and along the Gulf tend to have a dark eye rather than yellow.
The Boat-Tailed Grackle is found along the eastern seaboard and Gulf coast where it frequently feasts on crustaceans. Also found across the Florida peninsula, these grackles are opportunistic feeders and will eat anything from insects and seeds to sea life and human food scraps. They also enjoy sunflower seeds, millet, and corn. They prefer to nest in marshes, along the beach, and near the coast. The Boat-Tailed Grackle is also just as loud and noisy as its grackle cousins.
5. Brewer’s Blackbird
Scientific Name: Euphagus cyanocephalus
If you’re thinking this bird looks like the grackles on this list, you’d be right! Named after the ornithologist, Thomas Mayo Brewer, the male Brewer’s Blackbird has iridescent black and midnight blue feathers. Though not strictly a black bird with a blue head, this bird could be mistaken for one due to the purple-blue sheen seen in certain lighting. Brewer’s that breed in central North America fly to Mexico for the winter, however those found west of the Rocky Mountains tend to stay put year-round. They are not found along the east coast.
Comfortable in urban environments, they are often seen perching along power lines, at the tops of trees, or foraging for seeds and insects on the ground. These social birds nest in large colonies of up to 50 pairs. Trees and shrubs near water or reeds in marshy areas are frequent nest sites.
6. European Starling
Scientific Name: Sturnus vulgaris
The European Starling may be confused with the Common Grackle because of its iridescent, dark, muli-colored plumage. However they are easy to tell apart due to the starling’s yellow beak and gold speckles. They do hang out with grackles and blackbirds, but are not considered to be blackbirds themselves. The European Starling is just as loud, though, and is boisterous and pushy like the other birds they flock with.
The European Starling may appear to have a dark-colored body in dark lighting, and features a blue-purple head. Therefore, it may appear as a black bird with a blue head, especially during the breeding season when they loose a lot of their speckling and their body appears darker. Found throughout the U.S., the European Starling nests in holes and crevices, whether in trees or buildings. They feed on insects, such as grasshoppers, flies, spiders, snails, and worms, berries, and seeds. Unfortunately they are an invasive species and compete with native birds for nesting cavities and food.
7. Shiny Cowbird
Scientific Name: Molothrus bonariensis
Though originally from and native to South America, the Shiny Cowbird makes our list of black birds with blue heads in North America because they have expanded their range to southern Florida, especially along the coast. Though rare to see, the male is a very deep bluish-purple. So depending on the lighting, you may noticed black, blue or purple on different parts of their body. Like the other shiny species on this list, females are a non-iridescent brown.
The Shiny Cowbird is smaller than most blackbirds and is considered a brood parasite, as it does not build its own nest nor raise its own young. They lay eggs in other birds’ nests and let them do the work. Shiny Cowbirds feed from the ground and typically eat insects and seeds, hanging out in parks, gardens, yards, and fields.