Blackbirds are widely recognized as some of the most iconic birds in North America. Still, few people realize that these beautiful creatures are actually a wide range of different species.
In Connecticut, birders can find a diverse array of blackbird species thriving in a variety of habitats throughout the state. Some of the most common blackbird species in this area include the Red-winged Blackbird and Common Grackle, both known for their striking plumage and melodic songs.
These birds have adapted well to life in Connecticut, occupying both rural areas and urban high rises alike with ease. Whether you are an avid birder or simply enjoy bird watching as a pastime, getting familiar with the unique blackbirds of Connecticut is sure to be well worth your time!
Blackbirds in Connecticut
- Scientific Name: Quiscalus quiscula
- Length:11-13 inches (28-33 centimeters)
- Weight: 2.6–5 ounces (74-142 grams)
- Wingspan: 14–18 inches (35-46 centimeters)
Common grackles are striking and resourceful blackbirds found in open woodlands, wetlands, and fields throughout much of the United States. They nest high up in conifer trees near water.
They are most often seen in the spring and fall in Connecticut as they migrate between their breeding and wintering grounds. Common grackles are highly social birds and can often be seen in enormous flocks. These loud birds are also known for their distinctive call, which sounds like a creaking door hinge.
Although they are primarily black, Common grackles can show a wide range of colors; their iridescent bodies show colors from green to purple. Adult males are particularly flashy during the breeding season when they are trying to attract a mate. While they may not be the most popular bird around, there is no doubt that the Common grackle is a fascinating creature.
- Scientific Name: Agelaius phoeniceus
- Length: 6.7–9.4 inches (17-24 centimeters)
- Weight: 1.5–2.3 ounces (42-65 grams)
- Wingspan: 12–16 inches (30-40 centimeters)
The Red-winged blackbird is a true blackbird species native to North America. The adult male has black plumage with a bright red and yellow patch on its wing. Females and juveniles are brown with pale streaks. This bird can be found in a variety of habitats, including marshes, swamps, and wetlands.
In Connecticut, the Red-winged blackbird is most commonly seen in the spring and summer months. These aggressive birds are known for their loud, ventriloquial calls, which are used to attract mates and defend their territory and nest against intruders.
The diet of the Red-winged blackbird consists mainly of insects, but they will also eat berries and seeds. These birds play an important role in controlling the harmful insect population. They are also a popular subject in birdwatching and photography.
- Scientific Name: Sturnus vulgaris
- Length: 7.5–9 inches (19-23 centimeters)
- Weight: 2–3.6 ounces (57-102 grams)
- Wingspan: 12–17 inches (30-43 centimeters)
The European starling is a species of Old World passerine bird. It is about the size of a robin and has black plumage with white speckles. The starling is not native to North America but was introduced to the eastern United States in the 1890s and quickly out-competed the native birds for space and food. Today, the bird is found in massive flocks throughout Connecticut.
The European starling is an opportunistic feeder and will eat a variety of foods, including insects, berries, and seeds. In the springtime, the bird often feeds on buds and flowers. The starling will also eat human food if given the opportunity.
European starlings are black, with a short tail and a slender beak. Breeding adults are darker and have a green-purple tint to their plumage.
The bird nests in holes, crevices, and nest boxes, often taking over the nests of other birds, such as bluebirds. The female will lay 3-7 eggs per clutch, incubating them for 12-14 days. Both parents help to care for the young birds.
- Scientific Name: Molothrus ater
- Length: 6.3–8.7 inches (6-22 centimeters)
- Weight: 1.1–2.1 ounces (31-60 grams)
- Wingspan: 12-15 inches (30-38 centimeters)
The male Brown-headed cowbird is a large, black bird with a distinctive brown head and rich brown feathers on its chest and belly. Female cowbirds are browner with slight streaking on the belly and black eyes.
Spending much of its time in grassy fields and open woodlands, this chunky blackbird is a highly adaptable species found throughout much of North America, including Connecticut.
Despite their popularity, Brown-headed cowbirds are not without their drawbacks. Their tendency to lay eggs in the nests of other birds, thus saving energy building nests, has caused some concern among conservationists, who are afraid that the bird may be contributing to declining populations of smaller songbirds attempting to raise the baby cowbird to adulthood.
While some studies suggest that this may not be the case, it is still important to be aware of how one’s activities may impact local wildlife.
- Scientific Name: Euphagus carolinus
- Length: 8.5–9.8 in (22-25 centimeters)
- Weight: 2–2.1 ounces (57-60 grams)
- Wingspan: 14 inches (36 centimeters)
The Rusty blackbird is a pretty little bird native to the forests of Connecticut and much of North America. They breed in the boreal forests of Canada. Breeding male Rusty blackbirds are glossy black but have a rusty appearance in winter. Non-breeding males and juveniles are duller with rusty-brown edging on their plumage, hence the name. Female blackbirds are brown or rust-colored.
In addition to their distinctive looks, these birds are also well known for their unusual noisiness and irksome tendency to hang out in large flocks. Though they’re not particularly endangered, experts believe that the population of rusty blackbirds has been steadily declining over the past few decades due to habitat loss, habitat degradation, and a changing climate.
Nonetheless, these fascinating little birds are still very much a part of the rich wildlife ecosystem here in Connecticut and make excellent study subjects for bird watchers willing to venture into their preferred habitats in wet forests, marshes and swamps.
- Scientific Name: Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
- Length: 8.3–10.2 inches (21-26 centimeters)
- Weight: 1.6–3.5 ounces (45-99 grams)
- Wingspan: 16.5–17.3 inches (42-44 centimeters)
The Yellow-headed blackbird is a striking bird with a vibrant yellow head and black body. This bird is found in North America, and it is known to frequent marshes and wetlands. The Yellow-headed blackbird is a social bird, and it often forms large flocks.
During the breeding season, these birds are known to be quite aggressive, and they will often chase away other larger birds from their territory.
The Yellow-headed blackbird is an essential bird for wetlands ecosystems, and it plays a vital role by eating insects in summer and controlling insect populations. These birds are also very popular with birdwatchers, as they are relatively easy to spot, and their bright colors make them quite eye-catching.
- Scientific Name: Icterus galbula
- Length: 6.7–8.7 inches (17-22 centimeters)
- Weight: 0.8–1.5 ounces (23-42 grams)
- Wingspan: 9.1–12.6 inches (23-32 centimeters)
The Baltimore oriole is a small songbird with an orange body and black head and wings. They are most often found in the eastern United States, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay area. However, they have also been known to travel as far north as Connecticut.
In fact, the Baltimore oriole is the state bird of Maryland. These stunning birds are quite shy and are rarely seen in urban areas. However, they are attracted to open areas with deciduous trees, such as parks and forest edges. They make incredible hanging bag-like nests from woven fibers. You can attract Baltimore orioles to your yard with orange slices on a platform feeder.
They have a very sweet song, which can be heard in the early morning hours during the breeding season. The Baltimore oriole gets its name from its resemblance to a type of 17th-century heraldry. Male birds are orange and black, with white wing bars and a black hood and back. Females are duller and lack the hood.
The Baltimore oriole is one of only a few North American birds that migrate to Central and South America for the winter.
- Scientific Name: Icterus spurius
- Length: 5.9–7.1 inches
- Weight: 0.6–1 ounces
- Wingspan: 9.8 inches
While many people are familiar with the bright, vibrant colors of the well-known Baltimore oriole, not as many people know about its more subtle cousin, the Orchard oriole. This species is native to Connecticut and other parts of the northeastern United States and can be found in a variety of habitats throughout these regions.
The Orchard oriole is characterized by its distinctive song, a rich warbling melody that often reminds listeners of a violin or flute.
In addition to its beautiful song, this bird is also known for its brightly colored feathers – particularly the males, who boast bright orange-red plumage on their backs and tails but have black wings with white wing bars.
Despite being smaller than the Baltimore oriole, this shy bird can often be seen feeding high in the tops of trees like one of its larger relatives or in your backyard among the shrubby vegetation looking for insects. Put out a nectar feeder with sugar water or a regular backyard feeder with sunflower seeds or orange slices to attract Orchard orioles and have a better chance of seeing one.
- Scientific Name: Euphagus cyanocephalus
- Length: 8–10.3 inches (20-26 centimeters)
- Weight: 2.2 ounces (62 grams)
- Wingspan: 15.5 inches (39 centimeters)
Brewer’s blackbirds are a common sight in Connecticut, especially during the warmer months. These striking birds have glossy black feathers with bright yellow eyes and beaks. While they may look intimidating, Brewer’s blackbirds are actually quite social and fun-loving creatures that love being around other birds.
Along with their sociable nature, these medium-sized blackbirds also have some other interesting traits. They’re incredibly clever animals known for their ability to steal food from neighbors and for their frustratingly good memories.
As a result, these birds can be territorial at times and may even obsess over certain objects, like pieces of shiny metal or plastic trash. However, while they might seem like pests at first glance, Brewer’s blackbirds play an important role in balancing out local ecosystems and helping to promote biodiversity throughout Connecticut.
After all, they help to keep insect populations under control and cycle nutrients through the soil via their waste products.
- Scientific Name: Sturnella magna
- Length: 7.5–10 inches (19-25 centimeters)
- Weight: 2.7–5.3 ounces (77-150 grams)
- Wingspan: 14–16 inches (36-41 centimeters)
This small songbird is known for its bright yellow breast and bright eye markings that stand out against its brown, tan, or white coloring. As you might expect, Meadowlarks are most commonly spotted in open grasslands and meadows, where they can easily hunt insects and other small invertebrates.
But what you may not know about this iconic bird is that it also has an incredibly complex song that it uses to communicate with other birds and potential mates. In fact, some experts have described this song as almost musical in quality due to its rapid tempo, clear pitch, and subtle inflections.
Additionally, these birds have an amazing memory for territory; it is not uncommon for one to return to the same field year after year to breed successfully.
Final Thoughts: Black Bird vs. Blackbird
There are roughly 10,000 different species of birds in the world, and they come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. One common coloration is black. While this might seem like a simple color to identify, there is actually a significant difference between a black bird and a blackbird.
A black bird is any species of bird that is black, which may be anything from a seagull to a crow, while a blackbird is a bird in the Icteridae family. They are classified as New World Blackbirds to separate them from European blackbirds, which are part of the thrush family.
The blackbird family includes well-known species such as the European starling, orioles, and meadowlarks. So, next time you see a black bird, take a closer look to see if it’s actually a blackbird!