Usually, the kinds of birds you’re going to see are largely determined by your region. The country is roughly divided into east and west, and the birds are roughly divided up between the two.
When it comes to vibrant blackbirds, though, the state of Indiana enjoys a special position. Its central location makes it something of a blackbird crossroads, allowing residents to enjoy species from across the continent.
Indiana’s rolling fields and open farmland also make it a blackbird’s favorite hangout. The blackbird family loves habitats like grasslands, meadows, and marshes.
So now that we know why blackbirds love Indiana, what is it that makes a blackbird a blackbird?
Not All Black Birds Are Blackbirds
You might expect that a family of blackbirds would be named for its black wings, but when it comes to their scientific name, they’re actually not.
Their family name, “Icterid” means “the jaundiced ones,” which sounds none-too-flattering! It refers to the flashy yellow feathers that many members of the blackbird family also have.
In ancient Greece, it was believed that a yellow-feathered bird could cure jaundice and that folklore association made its way into the scientific name of this new world bird family.
In addition to these bright yellow feathers, many blackbirds have extremely colorful bodies, thanks to their natural iridescence. Their black wings can show flashes of many other colors, including ranges of blues, greens, and purples.
Blackbirds are good at finding trouble, whether with humans or each other. They scavenge food, expand into urban areas, and shoulder their way into bird feeders.
Some even lay their eggs in other birds’ nests! Others practice social domination to get the best breeding grounds.
Here are the species of blackbirds you’ll get to meet if you spend some time in Indiana.
- Length: 8.3 – 10.2 in
- Weight: 1.6 – 3.5 oz (44 – 100 g)
- Wingspan: 16.5 – 17.3 in (42 – 44 cm)
Color Pattern: Male yellow-headed blackbirds have vivid yellow heads and chests that contrast with their sleek black wings. White patches mark the bend of each wing.
Female yellow-headed blackbirds sport a duller shade of yellow heads and have brown bodies rather than black.
These striking birds with yellow heads can make some strange noises—the call of the yellow-headed blackbird has been described as similar to the sound of a chain saw! Listen and decide what you think these birds with yellow heads sound like.
Yellow-Headed Blackbirds and Red-Winged Blackbirds favor the same marsh habitats for nesting. But the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds are socially dominant and will push the smaller Red-Wings out of the prime nesting spots.
- Length: 5.9 – 8.3 in (15 – 21 cm)
- Weight: 1.0 – 2.0 oz (29 – 56 g)
- Wingspan: 10.6 in (27 cm)
Color Pattern: When in their breeding plumage, males are predominantly black, with a yellow ochre nape, and white on their backs and rumps.
This is the only bird in North America that is white on its upper side and black on its underside.
When not breeding, the males look like the females: a warm, tawny body streaked with dark brown on their backs and flanks. They have brown-striped crowns and pinkish bills.
Bobolinks come to Indiana for the summer each year, and some will spend the winter in the southern part of Indiana.
These birds are struggling though: their numbers declined 65% from 1966 to 2015. They’re suffering from habitat loss and nest destruction, as well as from being shot as agricultural pests.
These impressive migrators fly a distance equivalent to 4 or 5 times the earth’s circumference in their lifetimes. They are the only mainland birds known to take a migration route through the Galápagos Islands each year.
- Length: 7.5 – 10.2 in (19 – 26 cm)
- Weight: 3.2 – 5.3 oz (90 – 150 g)
- Wingspan: 13.8 – 15.8 in (35 – 40 cm)
Color Pattern: Eastern Meadowlarks have a sunny yellow breast with a distinctive black v-marking at the chest. The rest of the body is pale brown with black markings. The tail is brown with blackish barring, and white outer feathers that become noticeable during flight.
The Eastern Meadowlark may be a little more mysterious than your average blackbird. They’re not as common as bird feeders.
These cheerful-sounding birds can be found singing on exposed perches, like fence posts and utility poles, throughout Indiana’s farmlands.
It’s not easy to find an Eastern Meadowlark’s nest: these birds will walk back to their nests through narrow grass runways, rather than fly.
- Length: 6.7 – 7.5 in (17 – 19 cm)
- Weight: 1.1 – 1.4 oz (30 – 40 g)
- Wingspan: 9.1 – 11.8 in (23 – 30 cm)
Color Pattern: The adult males have striking hot orange undersides, and a black hood, back, and wings. They have white wing bars and white streaking on the wings.
Adult females are olive to gray on their backs with subdued yellowish-orange undersides. They share the white wing bars and streaking of the males. Juveniles share the female coloration.
In early May, the oriole migration makes its way to Indiana, bringing the beauty of these flashy birds in with the warm weather. Baltimore Orioles will stay in Indiana from May to August.
Consider gardening with Indiana native fruit plants to attract these birds. They prefer dark-colored fruits, such as mulberry, raspberry, blackberry, and chokecherry.
- Length: 5.9 – 7.1 in (15 – 18 cm)
- Weight: 0.6 – 1.0 oz (16 – 28 g)
- Wingspan: 9.8 in (25 cm)
Color Pattern: The adult male Orchard Oriole is black on top from hood to tail, with a deep chestnut-colored underside. There is a chestnut-colored patch on each Orchard Oriole’s wing, with white wing bars streaking along the wing feathers.
The adult females have an olive-to-yellow back that gets more yellow on the underside. Their wings are grayish and marked with two white wing bars; unlike the males, they have no black markings.
Juvenile Orchard Orioles are similar to females, but immature males have black markings on their faces.
Orchard Orioles join their Baltimore Oriole cousins during the May migration to Indiana, but they can be shy at the birdfeeder.
If you want to lure them in, set out favorites like orange slices and grape jelly.
Orchard Orioles are friendly with many other species of birds, including Eastern and Western Kingbirds. That friendship might help protect them from parasitism by cowbirds.
- Weight: 1.1 – 2.7 oz (32 – 77 g)
- Wingspan: 12.2 – 15.8 in (31 – 40 cm)
Color Pattern: Male Red-Winged Blackbirds are striking in appearance, with glossy black wings and bodies, and red and yellow markings on the curve of each shoulder.
Female Red-Winged Blackbirds are dark brown overall, with clean white wing bars, a pale breast, and often, a white eyebrow.
The male Red-Winged Blackbirds are messengers of spring in Indiana as they turn out and establish their territories before the females join them.
Even though male Red-Winged Blackbirds will fiercely defend territories with as many as 15 different female mates, the chicks from one nest often have several different fathers.
Like many of their blackbird brethren, these birds love any kind of wetlands, and even a flooded ditch can be enough to coax them into a nearby pasture.
- Length: 7.5 – 8.7 in (19 – 22 cm)
- Weight: 1.5 – 1.8 oz (42 – 50 g)
- Wingspan: 14.2 in (36 cm)
- Length: 6.3-7.9 in (16-20 cm)
- Weight: 1.3-1.6 oz (38-45 g)
- Wingspan: 12.6-15.0 in (32-38 cm)
Color Pattern: Males have glossy black feathers all over their bodies, and a deep brown head that can look black from a distance.
Females are entirely brown, but lighter brown heads and undersides. They have dark eyes and fine streaks on their bellies.
The Brown-Headed Cowbird is a year-round resident of Indiana.
The most distinctive trait of Brown-Headed Cowbirds is that they are brood parasites: that is, they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. These birds with brown heads then make their chicks someone else’s problem!
The Brown-Headed Cowbirds as a whole aren’t picky about the adoptive parents they choose—they will lay their eggs in the nests of over 220 different host species.
But it seems that an individual female Brown-Headed Cowbird will select one host species to consistently lay her eggs with.
- Length: 8.3 – 9.8 in (21 – 25 cm)
- Weight: 1.7 – 2.8 oz (47 – 80 g)
- Wingspan: 14.6 in (37 cm)
Color Pattern: The Rusty Blackbird is recognizable by the rusty feather edges that are visible on both the non-breeding males and the females. Both also have pale yellow eyes. Non-breeding males have a buffy eyebrows.
Females have gray-brown bodies and dark feathers surrounding the eye that contrast with a pale brow.
Breeding males are a glossy black all over, with a greenish iridescent sheen.
Rusty Blackbirds migrate through Indiana in the spring and fall, with some wintering in the state.
The Rusty Blackbird is in serious trouble. This bird’s numbers declined 85 to 95% over a span of 40 years–more than any other North American songbird.
Frustratingly, no one is certain why. Factors that could be contributing include habitat loss, mercury toxicity, pesticide runoff, and climate change causing wetlands to dry up.
The International Rusty Blackbird Working Group is studying these birds and trying to solve the troubling problem of their decline.
- Length: 11.0 – 13.4 in (28 – 34 cm)
- Weight: 2.6 – 5.0 oz (74 – 142 g)
- Wingspan: 14.2 – 18.1 in (36 – 46 cm)
Color Pattern: Common Grackles seem to be simply black, but iridescence gives them a wide array of colors under the right light.
Males have glossy purple heads and bronzing all over their bodies. Females aren’t as iridescent as the males, but still have some of that bronzing and multicolored sheen.
Both adults have a light golden eye, but juveniles are born with a dark eye.
Common Grackles are intelligent, noisy birds that are known for their wide-ranging appetites and foraging skills.
They will eat just about anything, whether that means insects, seeds, vegetables, fish, eggs, or even other birds and small rodents.
These highly-social birds will form multi-species flocks in the winter with other types of blackbirds, sometimes including several million birds. They forage and roost together.
- Length: 8.3 – 9.8 in (21 – 25 cm)
- Weight: 2.1 – 3.0 oz (60 – 86 g)
- Wingspan: 14.6 in (37 cm)
- Length: 7.9 – 8.7 in (20 – 22 cm)
- Weight: 1.8 – 2.4 oz (50 – 67 g)
- Wingspan: 14.6 in (37 cm)
Color Pattern: Males are iridescent black that ranges from a blue head, down to greens lower on their body. They have striking yellow eyes.
Females are brown throughout, but darker on their tails and wings. They have dark eyes. Juveniles will look similar to the females, but with washed-out coloration.
Brewer’s Blackbirds adapt well to the human development of their habitat and don’t seem to mind sharing urban landscapes with us.
Sadly, Brewer’s Blackbirds are sometimes killed to protect crops. But these birds are actually really important for controlling populations of pest insects by eating invaders like tent caterpillars, termites, and weevils.
They will even follow after farm machinery, looking for insects in the plowed earth.
Indiana: the Indy 500, Notre Dame, and…a blackbird crossroads? You betcha! With 10 different species to see, these eye-catching and intriguing birds are sure to entertain you. If you’re in Indiana, why not look them up? Happy birding!