People have a lot of mixed feelings about blackbirds.
After all, they can be gorgeous, and their songs can be fascinatingly complex. At the same time, the blackbird family is diverse enough that some of them have terribly grating, offputting songs. Plus, they are known for being very aggressive.
Blackbirds have even been known to gather in such large, aggressive flocks that they scare away the songbirds that many Arizona residents have spent a lot of time attracting to their yards and gardens.
When you spot a bird, how do you know if it’s a blackbird or not?
Are all blackbirds black? And are all black birds part of the blackbird family? Interestingly, the answers are no and no. Not all blackbirds are black, and not all birds that are black are blackbirds.
If you learn to recognize Arizona’s blackbirds, you can figure out when you need to take action to deter the more aggressive varieties from scaring away your songbirds. When you’re birdwatching in Arizona, you will likely see an assortment of blackbirds, starlings, cowbirds, orioles, and grackles.
10 Blackbirds You’ll See in Arizona
- Scientific Name: Agelaius phoeniceus
- Length: 22–24 centimeters (8.7–9.4 inches)
- Weight: 64 grams (2.3 ounces)
- Wingspan: 31-40 centimeters (12-16 inches)
Males boast a black-feathered body and a flash of red and orange at the tops of their wings. Female Red-winged blackbirds are brown and cream colored, and their heads are lighter in color than their bodies. They also have a dark brown stripe that runs from behind their eyes to the backs of their heads. They look a bit like large sparrows.
It’s easy to spot male Red-winged blackbirds, as they are some of Arizona’s most recognizable birds. They can be found throughout the state, but they are especially populous in the Sonoran desert.
Their breeding season habitat is primarily marshes and wetlands. They live in grassy fields, farmland, and pasture for the rest of the year.
Red-winged blackbirds, like other Icterids, are frequently territorial. Males defend females, and both males and females will defend their nests against intruders. They are known for chasing away predatory birds and animals, and they will even divebomb humans who get too close.
Usually, though, their aggression is more like “yelling” and making a scene to try to scare you off.
- Scientific Name: Euphagus cyanocephalus
- Length: 20 to 25 centimeters (8–10.3 inches)
- Weight: 63 grams (2.2 ounces)
- Wingspan: 39 centimeters (15.5 inches)
Male Brewer’s blackbirds have an iridescent appearance. Their head can look either bright blue or blue-ish purple, and their bodies are greenish. A male Brewer’s blackbird also has a glossy black bill and black legs. Female blackbirds are duller, a sort of brownish-grey. Their wings and tails are darker than the rest of their body.
This common blackbird species is quite resourceful. They skillfully adapt to environmental changes caused by humans. They often live in urban areas, and you will spot them in Arizona’s cities. They especially love eating the crumbs and scraps that fall from people dining at outdoor restaurants.
- Scientific Name: Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
- Length: 21 to 26 centimeters (8.3–10.2 inches)
- Weight: 44-100 grams (1.6-3.5 ounces)
- Wingspan: 42-44 centimeters (16.5-17.3 inches)
A male Yellow-headed blackbird will have a black body and a large yellow head and chest. Where their black wings bend, you’ll see white wing patches. Females have a yellow head, too, but it is duller in color. These blackbirds are stout, with long tails and sharp, pointed bills.
We love the flashy look of these blackbirds. Their very cool scientific name, “Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus,” comes from the Greek for yellow (xanthous) and head (cephalus).
The Yellow-headed blackbird’s song is not appealing.
In fact, the Audubon Society refers to their song as a “hoarse, harsh scraping.” Definitely not a songbird!
Yellow-headed blackbirds form huge flocks numbering in the thousands when they are not actively nesting and raising their hatchlings.
- Scientific Name: Sturnus vulgaris
- Length: 19–23 centimeters (7.5–9.1 inches)
- Weight: 58–101 grams (2.0–3.6 ounces)
- Wingspan: 31–44 centimeters (12–17 inches)
Starlings are dark brown or black iridescent birds with a sheen that shows up when the light hits them just right. Their dark feathers are lightly mottled in a beigey-brown. Males and females look quite similar to one another.
Unfortunately, these European blackbirds also have a reputation for being total troublemakers!
While they may be attractive, their behavior causes a lot of problems. They are typically considered nuisance birds, especially when gathering in enormous flocks outside of breeding season.
Their status as a pest is part of why the Migratory Bird Treaty Act does not protect them. After being introduced into North America in the 1890s, they spread quickly throughout the continent.
Starlings are tenacious and adapt to their surroundings. Unfortunately, they are incredibly aggressive, and they often out-compete other birds in the area. They are harmful to Arizona’s songbird population, and many Arizonans prefer to deter them from invading their property.
- Scientific Name: Molothrus after
- Length: 16–22 centimeters (6.3–8.7 inches)
- Weight: 30–60 grams (1.1–2.1 ounces)
- Wingspan: 36 centimeters (14 inches)
Brown-headed cowbirds are small, with finch-shaped heads. This chunky blackbird is smaller than the average Icterid. Males are iridescent black, and females are a dullish-grey color with slight streaking on the belly. Both have brown heads.
If you’ve heard of Brown-headed cowbirds before, it is likely for their unique trait: instead of raising their own young, female cowbirds practice “brood parasitism” and lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. The unsuspecting birds then raise the baby cowbird to adulthood as their own, saving the cowbirds the time and energy building nests.
This behavior evolved as a way to survive high nest predation rates. Although cowbirds likely used to build their own nests, they are now such excellent brood parasites that nest-building is a relic of the past.
Brown-headed cowbirds lay more eggs throughout the breeding season than most other birds on this list. They will lay, on average, one egg in about 40 different nests each year!
Only about 3% of these eggs will hatch and survive to adulthood.
- Scientific Name: Molothrus aeneus
- Length: 16–22 centimeters (6.3–8.7 inches)
- Weight: 30–60 grams (1.1–2.1 ounces)
- Wingspan: 36 centimeters (14 inches)
Bronzed cowbirds look similar to Brown-headed cowbirds, but they have longer bills and shorter tails. Males and females alike have orange-ish eyes, although male Bronzed cowbirds develop red eyes during mating season. Females have dull black feathers, whereas males have a bit more sheen.
Like Brown-headed cowbirds, Bronzed cowbirds are another nest parasite. Their presence in Arizona has had a negative impact on other local birds, especially Hooded orioles.
- Scientific Name: Quiscalus mexicanus
- Length: 38-46 centimeters (15-18 inches)
- Weight: 203-265 grams (7.2-9.3 ounces)
- Wingspan: 48-58 centimeters (18.9-22.8 inches)
Male Great-tailed grackles are all black, and their feathers boast an iridescent sheen. They also have beautiful yellow eyes. Females are dark brown, with buff throats and a stripe above their eyes.
These birds have seriously impressive tails! Oversized compared to the rest of the body, the tail is flashy and attention-grabbing.
These brash blackbirds also have a complex song that hits many different notes. You will hear these songs when these grackles gather in very large flocks. During courtship, males find a perch out in the open and fluff their feathers to look larger. They flutter their wings and tail while they show off their call.
These loud, social birds will also intimidate other males by pointing their bills to the sky.
You can commonly find them living near people in parks, farms, and neighborhood backyards.
- Scientific Name: Icterus spurius
- Length: 15-18 centimeters (5.9-7.1 inches)
- Weight: 16-28 grams (0.6-1.0 ounce)
- Wingspan: 25 centimeters (9.8 inches)
Orchard orioles are the smallest birds in the Icteridae family.
Male Orchard orioles’ heads and throats are black, and they have a patch at the bend of their wings that has a reddish-colored patch. Females are more green-yellow, and they have two bars on their darker wings.
These little orioles are found throughout the Midwest and the South and in Mexico and Central America. You can spot them in Arkansas throughout the breeding season.
They can be a little bit difficult to spot because they spend most of their time in the treetops. They tend to avoid large forests. Instead, they prefer groves of trees, orchards, and riverside forests. But, you can attract Orchard orioles to your yard with hummingbird feeders.
- Scientific Name: Icterus bullockii
- Length: 17-19 centimeters (6.7-7.5 inches)
- Weight: 29-43 grams (1.0-1.5 ounces)
- Wingspan: 31 centimeters (12.2 inches)
Bullock’s orioles are gorgeous little blackbirds. Males are bright orange, including their faces. They have a black back and throat, a large white patch on their wings, and a black line that runs across their eyes. Females are a lighter orange with a yellowish head.
They have a rich diet of insects, fruit, and nectar, so experienced birdwatchers will attract Bullock’s orioles with jellies and fruits on their backyard feeders in the summer to attract them.
Bullock’s orioles are celebrated for their lovely song. Unlike other blackbirds, people often want to attract Bullock’s orioles because of their appearance and song.
- Scientific Name: Icterus cucullatus
- Length: 112-128 centimeters (7-8 inches)
- Weight: 24.38 grams (0.86 ounce)
- Wingspan: 29-30 centimeters (11.25-12 inches)
Male Hooded orioles are orangish-yellow, with black coloration on the face, wings, back, and tail. Both males and females have two white bars on their wings. Females are olive-green. When she flies, you will see the yellowish underside of their grayish wings.
Hooded orioles are great mimics. They often end up borrowing sounds from the other birds in their habitat. Arizona’s Hooded orioles copy the sounds of both Ash-throated flycatchers and Gila woodpeckers.
They love to build their nests in palm trees, so they are interchangeably called Palm-leaf orioles. But, you can attract Hooded orioles with sugar water, jelly, and orange slices.
- Scientific Name: Icterus parisorum
- Length: 23 centimeters (9.1 inches)
- Weight: 32-41 grams (1.1-1.4 ounces)
- Wingspan: 32 centimeters (12.6 inches)
Male Scott’s orioles are lemony-yellow with a black head. Females are duller but still yellow. Males have white wing bars, but females’ wing bars on their dark wings are less vibrant.
The Scott’s oriole gets its English name from General Winfield Scott, who fought in the Mexican-American War. Their scientific name honors a pair of French brothers who funded nature expeditions in North America.
These beautiful blackbirds can be found throughout Arizona. Their habitat can include mountains and desserts. They like to nest in palm trees, junipers, pines, and yuccas.
What Should You Do About Blackbirds in Arizona?
Do you want to spot blackbirds in your backyard? Or do you want to deter them? It depends on which blackbirds live in the area.
Some blackbirds are known for causing problems because of their aggression and massive flocks. Others are quite beautiful, and they can live cooperatively with countless other species. Blackbirds play an important part in our avian ecosystem, and they can be quite fascinating to watch.
You can protect Arizona’s many birds from more aggressive varieties of icterids by following some simple steps. If aggressive blackbirds are gathering in your yard, remove any tasty fruits and berries that may be drawing them in. Spilled birdfeed also attracts large groups of blackbirds, so avoid spills and overfilling.
You can use bird netting, noisemakers, and plastic animal decoys (such as hawks, owls, and dogs) to frighten blackbirds away. Helium balloons are helpful if you hang them throughout your yard during periods of heavy infestations.
Regardless of your feelings about each of the blackbirds you’re likely to see in Arizona, we hope that your birdwatching is a positive experience full of color, song, and fascinating bird behaviors!