Blackbirds in Arkansas: 10 Fascinating Species To Look For

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Blackbirds don’t have a great reputation. After all, their behavior can scare away the songbirds you love! Blackbirds tend to be territorial and aggressive, and they can fight with other birds and each other. 

What kinds of blackbirds should you be on the lookout for in Arkansas? There are about ten different blackbirds that show up throughout the state. However, not every black bird is a blackbird. The only real blackbirds are members of the Icteridae family, and they vary in color, shape, and size. It can certainly be helpful to know whether the black birds you’re seeing are truly blackbirds or just happen to be black.

Even people who dislike blackbirds’ behavior may still enjoy spotting these interesting birds. You may not want them at your birdfeeder, but you can still enjoy watching their unusual behavior and differentiating between varieties.  

Additionally, identifying which birds in your backyard are blackbirds can help you determine safe and legal methods of deterring them from the area. 

10 Blackbirds You’ll See in Arkansas

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

  • 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)

Red-winged blackbirds are some of Arkansas’ most recognizable birds. The males boast black feathers and a little flash of red and orange on the tops of their black wings. 

Female Red-winged blackbirds are less flashy, with brown and cream coloration and a lighter colored head. They also have a stripe of dark brown running from behind their eyes to the backs of their heads. Females look a bit like sparrows, but they are larger. 

Although Red-winged blackbirds in Arkansas suffered a catastrophic loss in 2011, their population recovered. Today, they can be found throughout the state. These birds are incredibly territorial. The males will defend their females and nests, and the females will also protect their nests. Often, their days are spent chasing away other birds, animals, and even people. 

Thankfully, it’s easy to spot a Red-winged blackbird, so you can typically recognize when you have entered their territory. Be warned: if you’re in Red-winged blackbird territory during nesting season, you could find yourself a target of their aggression!  Males actively defend their nest against intruders.

Hopefully, that will just be in the form of the birds “yelling” at you to get lost. However, they have been known to fly directly at the heads and shoulders of humans who have found their way into their nesting area! 

Red-winged blackbirds aren’t always aggressive, though. They share their foraging territory with other birds and will avoid confrontations by hiding the red patches on their wings. You may find Red-winged blackbirds living comfortably in a flock with grackles, cowbirds, and other blackbirds. 

European Starling

European Starling

  • 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)

Many bird experts consider European starlings to be champion troublemakers! These small, speckled brown birds have an aesthetic appeal, but their behavior causes many problems for birdwatchers. They are often considered to be a pest or nuisance. Starlings are not protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. They were introduced into North America in 1890 and have now spread throughout the continent. 

These social birds spend much of their time in large flocks. In fact, if you see one starling, you’ll probably see many more nearby! The only time starlings live independently is during their breeding season. 

Breeding adults are dark black and have a green-purple tint.

If starlings have some redeeming characteristics, they include how tenacious and adaptable they are! However, one of the biggest problems is that they are so aggressive that they can out-compete other species in the area. 

Unfortunately, this common blackbird causes a lot of harm to native songbirds in Arkansas. It’s best to try to deter European starlings from your property! 

Brown-Headed Cowbird

Brown-Headed Cowbird

  • Scientific Name: Molothrus ater
  • 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 known for one unique trait: instead of raising their own young, they lay their eggs in the nests of other bird species. This is called “brood parasitism,” which developed as a strategy to survive what must have been common events of nest predation.

Over time, this behavior evolved to the point that female cowbirds no longer need to spend energy building nests or incubating their eggs. They also don’t have to feed or protect their own baby cowbird! All of this means they can lay more eggs throughout the season and another bird will raise the cowbird to adulthood.

By laying just one egg on average in each nest, they can lay about 40 eggs per season! Not all of these eggs hatch and survive to adulthood. Only about 3% of cowbird eggs survive to adulthood. 

You can spot this chunky blackbird by its glossy black body and brown head. Sometimes, in poor light, their heads look black. Females are plain, with brown feathers and slight streaking across their bellies. 

Brewer’s Blackbird

Brewer's Blackbird

  • 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)

Brewer’s blackbirds are most common throughout the western states, but they spend their winters in Arkansas and are considered a common Arkansas blackbird. 

These resourceful birds have a wide variety of habitats and adapt well to man-made environmental changes. For example, they can be spotted darting between tables at busy restaurants to eat stray crumbs. They thrive in urban, suburban, and rural environments. 

You can attract them to your backyard with seeds on ground feeders.

Yellow-Headed Blackbird

Yellow-Headed Blackbird

  • 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)

These are one of our favorite blackbirds, and not just because of the great species name “Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus.” The name comes from the Greek words for yellow (xanthous) and head (cephalus). Its yellow head is large compared to other blackbirds. They are also quite stout in appearance, with a long tail, sharp, pointed bill, and white wing patches.

Although they are stunning in appearance, the yellow-headed blackbird song is unimpressive. The Audobon Society even describes their song as a “hoarse, harsh scraping.” Yikes! 

They nest independently and spend non-nesting time in open fields as part of a large flock. Sometimes, their flocks can be massive. Thousands of yellow-headed blackbirds are known to gather in huge flocks during non-nesting periods! 

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

  • Scientific Name: Quiscalus quiscula
  • Length: 28 to 34 centimeters (11 to 13 inches)
  • Weight: 74–142 grams (2.6–5.0 ounces)
  • Wingspan:  36–46 centimeters (14–18 inches)

These are the big guys of the blackbird world

Common grackles are incredibly common, including in Arkansas. You can spot them in rural and urban neighborhoods and in the countryside. They flock together and can be seen in large groups, often in the evening. They even roost communally from the summer months through winter. 

Male Common grackles are black with an iridescent blue head and bronze tones in the right light.

You may spot this resourceful blackbird species doing something you haven’t heard of before: anting. Watch for a common grackle to lie down on the ground–you may be seeing anting occur!

Anting is when a bird lies down near an active nest of ants and lets those ants swarm into its feathers. This behavior allows the ants to secrete formic acid throughout the bird’s feathers, as this can reduce the parasitic load affecting the bird. 

Grackles are not the only birds who do this, but it can be easier to spot them because they are such big and noticeable birds! Grackles also reduce their parasitic load by rubbing choke cherries, marigolds, walnuts, and citrus fruits into their feathers. 

Great-Tailed Grackle

Great-Tailed Grackle

  • 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)

The tail of a male Great-tailed grackle is impressive! It is oversized compared to the rest of the medium-sized bird’s body. He also has a complex song with a lot of variety in notes. 

Males are all black, with an iridescent sheen to their feathers. They also boast beautiful yellow eyes. Females are more of a dark brown. Their throats are buff, and they have a stripe right above their eyes. 

These brash blackbirds are loud and social that gather in enormous flocks. In the courtship process, males perch in the open and fluff themselves up, spreading their wings and large tail and fluttering while calling. They try to intimidate other males by pointing their bills to the sky.

You can find them in a wide variety of habitats including parks, farms, and neighborhood backyards.

Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole

  • 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 reddish-colored patch at the bend of their wings. Females are more yellow-green, and they have two bars on their wings. 

These vibrant blackbirds are found throughout the Midwest and the South and in Mexico and Central America. They can be spotted in Arkansas throughout the breeding season. 

They can be a little difficult to spot because they spend most of their time in the tops of trees or rooting through shrubby vegetation searching for insects. They tend to avoid large forests. Instead, they prefer groves of trees, orchards, and riverside forests. 

You can attract Orchard orioles to your backyard with sugar water in hummingbird feeders or cut oranges.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

  • Scientific Name: Icterus galbula
  • Length: 17–22 centimeters (6.7–8.7 inches)
  • Weight: 33.8 grams (1.19 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 23-30 centimeters (9-12 inches)

The Baltimore oriole is a beautiful little bird! 

Adult males are black and bright orange. They have a black head and a white bar that runs down their back and wings. Females have a yellowish-orange breast, a grey head and back, and two white wing bars. 

They are common throughout Arkansas all year. Interestingly, they got their name from the Baltimore family of England because the Baltimores’ crest had the same orange and black colors. 

 Unlike other birds, Baltimore orioles participate in a somewhat strange way of eating. It’s called “gaping.” 

They take their sharp, closed bill and stab it into soft fruits and berries. Then, they open their mouths and access the juices inside the fruit. You can attract Baltimore orioles to your yard with sugary foods like cut oranges on backyard feeders.

Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird

  • Scientific Name: Euphagus carolinus
  • Length: 22-25 centimeters (8.5-9.8 inches)
  • Weight: 60 grams (2.1 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 36 centimeters (14 inches)

 Rusty blackbirds love to spend time in the water! Their preferred habitat includes the edges of rivers, swamps, and lakes. They can be spotted in Arkansas’ swamps and wetlands. If you find an area of shallow water, rusty blackbirds may be nearby! 

These medium-sized blackbirds travel further north for breeding than any other blackbird. Their name may come from two sources: their rusty-colored appearance and the fact that their creaky song sounds like a rusty hinge. 

Rusty blackbirds boast rusty-colored edges to their feathers and pale yellow eyes with buff-colored eyebrows. Females are similar in coloration but more grey-brown than traditional brown. The male’s breeding plumage has a glossy black appearance. 

What to Do About Blackbirds?

Even though some blackbirds can cause problems because of their aggressive behavior and tendency to flock in huge groups, we hope it’s clear that these birds have their benefits, too! They are an essential part of our avian ecosystems. And some of them are quite beautiful and fascinating to watch!

Arkansas is home to many birds that may need to be protected from blackbird aggression. If you want to keep seeing songbirds of all varieties at your feeders and in your yard, you can take some simple steps to deter more aggressive species, including Icterids.

We recommend regularly clearing your yard of fruits and berries that blackbirds may be drawn to, as well as spilled birdfeed. Bird netting, noisemakers, and plastic animal decoys (like owls, hawks, and even dogs) can scare away blackbirds. 

You can hang helium balloons throughout your yard during an infestation to frighten blackbirds away. (Be sure to secure your balloons, so they don’t fly away and become a threat to wildlife!)

We hope you enjoy spotting blackbirds in the wild in Arkansas, and we also hope they leave your songbirds alone! 

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Liz Ranfeld

Liz Boltz Ranfeld is an independent educator and writer from Indiana. She lives on the edge of the woods with her husband, 2 kids, dogs, chickens, and hedgehog. One of the best things of living in rural Indiana is spotting hawks, pileated woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and other wild creatures. She enjoys hiking, canoeing, and gardening, and one of her personal heroes is the conservationist and birdwatcher Rosalie Barrow Edge, who paved the way for the protection of birds around the globe.