It can be easy to overlook the birds that don’t have brightly colored feathers. In fact, many people do because they assume these drably-hued birds have little to offer. But there is plenty of intelligence, cunning, and unique qualities to be found among the different types of black birds.
Many black-feathered birds are important to ecosystems across North America. From deserts to forests to agricultural fields, black birds serve a purpose, whether to control nuisance insects or to scavenge roadkill. Their lives may not be glamorous, but they are important.
18 Types of Black Birds
Learn more about eighteen species of dark-feathered friends found in North America by reading on.
1. American Crow
Scientific name: Corvus brachyrhynchos
Length: 17.5 in
Weight: 1 lb
Wingspan: 39 in
One of the most ubiquitous birds in North America, the American Crow has inspired stories, books, and even movies. These omnivorous birds are both large and intelligent. Some use tools to obtain food or water. American Crows adapt well to human infrastructure and development; some have been tamed and partially domesticated.
Male and female American crows look identical. They are cooperative parents that work together to feed their chicks. Their diets consist of anything from fruit and seeds to fish, dog food, or trash. Mated pairs of crows often nest repeatedly in the same site year after year.
2. European Starling
Scientific name: Sturnus vulgaris
Length: 8.5 in
Weight: 2.9 oz
Wingspan: 16 in
Not originally native to the United States, the European Starling was introduced in the late 1800s by a man who wanted New York’s Central Park to contain all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. What he couldn’t have expected was that the European Starling would rapidly spread across the whole of North America. They are seen throughout Mexico and as far north as the Canadian tundra.
European Starlings have iridescent black feathers punctuated by yellowish white dots. Males impress females during mating season by doing a dance with their wings outstretched. They travel in groups and form tight flocks to escape from predators, such as hawks.
3. Common Raven
Scientific name: Corvus corax
Length: 24 in
Weight: 2.6 lb
Wingspan: 53 in
Native to Mexico, the United States west of the Rockies, and nearly all of Canada, the Common Raven is similar to a crow, but larger. Their wings are narrower as well, enabling them to glide on pockets of air for longer than crows can.
Ravens are highly intelligent. They can be semi-domesticated, can occasionally be taught to mimic human speech and have been known to use tools in the wild to get to food or water. Some mate for life, and parents work together to feed young. They are omnivores that feed on anything from trash to small mammals or berries.
4. Brown-headed Cowbird
Scientific name: Molothrus ater
Length: 7.5 in
Weight: 1.5 oz
Wingspan: 12 in
The Brown-headed Cowbird is found across North America in the summer, and remain all year in states along the east coast and Gulf coast. These omnivorous birds congregate in large, noisy groups outside of human dwellings. Males are not above using shopping centers as a backdrop for their mating displays!
Female Brown-headed Cowbirds do not raise their own chicks. Instead, they act as ” brood parasites”. After mating, a female will secretly lay eggs in another bird’s unattended nest. In the end, the adoptive mother, which is usually smaller than the baby, will raise the cowbird chick as her own.
5. Red-winged Blackbird
Scientific name: Agelaius phoeniceus
Length: 8.75 in
Weight: 1.8 oz
Wingspan: 13 in
The most common blackbird in all of North America, the Red-winged Blackbird gets its name from the plumage of the male. His entire body, including his beak and eye, are black, except for a small patch on the upper covert feathers of his wings. This section is a bright orange-red. Females are brown and striped.
These birds are known to be relentless singers and can be heard in large multi-species groups that include cowbirds, grackles, or other types of blackbirds. They frequent marshes and swamps, and are known for clinging to reeds and cattails.
Scientific name: Dolichonyx oryzivorus
Length: 7 in
Weight: 1.5 oz
Wingspan: 11.5 in
A common omnivore closely related to blackbirds and cowbirds, the Bobolink is brown, white, and black bird that ranges across the United States. Both males and females are brown with dusky charcoal-colored wings until breeding season, when the male molts into dark black feathers.
Between March and August, the male Bobolink has a completely black underbelly and face. His nape is cream-colored and his wings and back are a mix of white and black.
Spot Bobolinks in fallow fields, prairies, and well-irrigated meadows. They prefer to stay with others of their own species and travel in groups.
7. Black-billed Magpie
Scientific name: Pica hudsonia
Length: 19 in
Weight: 6 oz
Wingspan: 25 in
Black-billed Magpies are stunning birds with long blue-black tails. Their dramatic coloring helps them stand out from other birds. They are gregarious and enjoy traveling together.
Intelligent and curious, the Black-billed Magpie is loud and very communicative. It normally lives in the northern Rockies and plains into Canada. They’re known to sit along fence posts and loiter in feedlots and fields. They also eat roadkill.
8. Common Grackle
Scientific name: Quiscalus quiscula
Length: 12 in
Weight: 4 oz
Wingspan: 17 in
These birds have adapted extremely well to human infrastructure and development. They are omnivorous and prefer to forage on the ground for seeds, insects, or other invertebrates. Any grassy area can be their cafeteria, including lawns and fields. They have been known to be a pest at bird feeders.
Mating displays from males are loud and obnoxious. They are also bigger than most other blackbirds in North America. The U.S. is home to two other species, the Boat-tailed Grackle and Great-tailed Grackle. They are also all black with the main different being the size of their tails.
9. Black Swift
Scientific name: Cypseloides niger
Length: 7.25 in
Weight: 1.6 oz
Wingspan: 18 in
This is the largest of the swifts, and it lives along the western coast of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, as well as a small pocket of the Rocky Mountains. Dark all over, both male and female Black Swifts forage for insects and spiders with complicated aerial maneuvers.
Black Swifts rely on damp areas, such as cliffs on the seacoast, or cliffs behind waterfalls, to make nests in. They only eat while flying and can be seen primarily in the morning or evening.
10. Black Phoebe
Scientific name: Sayornis nigricans
Length: 7 in
Weight: 0.7 oz
Wingspan: 11 in
The Black Phoebe prefers the coast of Western North America, especially California and Mexico. These small flycatchers create nests out of mud, which they attach to any vertical structure, whether that be naturally-existing cliffs or more recently constructed bridges or even walls.
Both males and females are black with a white underbelly. While they look for insects, they like to perch in the open. They are even known to sit on rocks in the middle of streams. If you live in the southwest or along the Californian coast, you may be able to hear their thin, whistly call throughout the year.
Scientific name: Phainopepla nitens
Length: 7.75 in
Weight: 0.84 oz
Wingspan: 11 in
The Phainopepla is a common bird in the Southwestern United States, living as far west as the Baja Peninsula and the California coast. Males are darker black than females, which settle for a dusky gray color.
Both sexes have crests, although the males is significantly taller than the female’s. When the male flies, a unique white patch on the outermost portion of the wings can be seen.
Phainopeplas are berry-eaters and concentrate in forests or lowlands, especially wherever there is a steady supply of mistletoe.
12. Groove-billed Ani
Scientific name: Crotophaga sulcirostris
Length: 13.5 in
Weight: 3 oz
Wingspan: 17 in
Groove-billed Anis visit the American Southwest, South Texas, and the Gulf Coast, primarily in summer months. These large-beaked black birds are related to the cuckoo. They often look very fluffy or slightly out of sorts, as if their feathers have not been properly groomed.
Groove-billed Anis have a habit of sunning themselves by opening their wings slightly and draping them over a tree branch that they perch on. They also flop around in dense thickets, swinging their wings with abandon. It may seem ridiculous, but they do so in order to flush out small prey like lizards and insects.
13. American Redstart
Scientific name: Setophaga ruticilla
Length: 5.25 in
Weight: 0.29 oz
Wingspan: 7.75 in
One of the more colorful black birds on our list, the American Redstart blends patches of white and orange with the black feathers on its head, chest, and back. Male American Redstarts boast a brilliant orange and black tail as well as black wings with a dramatic orange stripe.
To catch prey, the bird waves its tail and wings in order to scare its quarry into fleeing. When the insect does so, the bird uses its quick reflexes to catch it.
Look for nesting American Redstarts throughout most of the Eastern United States. They migrate as far west as western Utah and stop just before the Pacific Northwest and the West Coast.
14. American Coot
Scientific name: Fulica americana
Length: 15.5-16.9 in
Wingspan: 23 – 25 in
The American Coot has a round “chicken-like” body of all black feathers. Their dark red eye almost blends in with their plumage, but their white beak stands out. Coots are not ducks and don’t have webbed feet. Instead, they have long, lobed toes that help them swim and walk around aquatic vegetation at the waters edge.
You can find these coots around ponds, lakes, swamps and other freshwater wetlands. For breeding they prefer vegetated shoreline with some shallow water along the edge for wading.
15. Bronzed Cowbird
Scientific name: Molothrus aeneus
Length: 7.9 in
Weight: 2.3-2.6 oz
Wingspan: 13 in
This dark cowbird gets its name from the slightly bronze sheen you can see on its feathers in the sunlight. Females are brown, but both sexes have distinctive red eyes. Just like their relatives the Brown-headed Cowbird, they are also known to lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.
The Bronze Cowbird is much less common, only entering the U.S. along the southern border in places like Texas, Arizona and Louisiana. They can be found year round throughout Mexico and Central America.
16. Brewer’s Blackbird
Scientific name: Euphagus cyanocephalus
Length: 7.9-9.8 in
Weight: 1.8-3.0 oz
Wingspan: 14.6 in
These common birds of the western U.S. are often found either walking around the ground looking for food or perched up in trees or on utility lines. Males are a very dark and often appear black, but in bright sunlight you can see iridescent blue, purple and green.
These blackbirds are very social and will often be seen in small groups, and will nest in colonies of 100 or more. Their coloring and light eye make them often confused with grackles, and they will often mix together with grackle flocks.
17. Black Vulture
black vulture | Land Between the Lakes KY/TN
Scientific name: Coragyps atratus
Length: 23.6-26.8 in
Weight: 56.4-77.6 oz
Wingspan: 53.9-59.1 in
Black vultures can be found in the eastern U.S. all the way down through South America. They are black all over with lighter gray on the underside of their wingtips. In many places they can be found alongside Turkey Vultures. In fact, Black vultures don’t have as good a sense of smell as Turkey vultures, and will often follow them to find roadkill and other carcasses.
Black vultures are typically known as being the more aggressive type of vulture out of the two and have even been known to take live prey occasionally.
18. Black Oystercatcher
Scientific name: Haematopus bachmani
Length: 16.5-18.5 in
Weight: 17.6 – 24.7 oz
The Black Oystercatcher can be found along the rocky Pacific coast. Their thick red beak and yellow eye with red ring stands out against their black head and dark body. It is thought its darker body plumage may be an adaptation to better blend into the dark rocks found along North America’s western shores.
Black oystercatchers usually nest on islands, using the rocks on the shoreline to make a bowl-shaped nest by flicking rocks with their beaks to build the right shape.
Mary is an outdoor enthusiast, nature lover, and amateur birdwatcher that enjoys sharing her knowledge and experiences with others.