The 9 Species of Blackbirds in Massachusetts To Observe

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Massachusetts is home to a wide range of bird species. One of the interesting types of bird to explore here are blackbirds (which, truth be told, are not always black).

Most blackbirds in Massachusetts are new world blackbirds, within the Icteridae family of American blackbirds.

Though there is also one species of European ‘blackbird’—the European starling—commonly found here.

Read on to learn more about the blackbird species that are found here, and when you might expect to see them in this state.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

  • Scientific Name: Agelaius phoeniceus
  • Length: 6.7 – 9.1 in (17 – 23 cm)
  • Weight: 1.1 – 2.7 oz (32 – 77 g)
  • Wingspan: 12.2 – 15.8 in (31 – 40 cm)

The red-winged blackbird is the species most commonly spotted in Massachusetts during the summer months and comes second on birdwatcher’s lists in winter.

These common birds breed and nest in the state over the summer months. In winter, most will migrate south to their wintering grounds. But some will remain here year-round.

The males are easily identified, with their black coloration and striking red-orange wing patches. The females are less showy and are a streaky brown.

You will commonly see these birds congregating on telephone wires. Their nests are built near the ground in dense vegetation. Avoid going too close to nests—the males can be aggressive when defending their territory.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

  • Scientific Name: Quiscalus quiscula
  • 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)

Though they are a near-threatened species, whose numbers have declined markedly in recent decades, these are still the second most common blackbird species spotted in Massachusetts during the summer months.

They are the third most common blackbird to see in the winter, though it is far, far less likely that you will see them during the coldest months.

The common grackle usually arrives in Massachusetts from the south in spring, then departs for warmer regions in the fall. But some individuals do remain in the state year-round.

These birds have longer tails and are slightly taller than other blackbird species. The male’s black plumage is slightly glossier than that of the females of the species.

European Starling

European Starling

  • Scientific Name: Sturnus vulgaris
  • Length: 7.9 – 9.1 in (20 – 23 cm)
  • Weight: 2.1 – 3.4 oz (60 – 96 g)
  • Wingspan: 12.2 – 15.8 in (31 – 40 cm)

Up close, starlings are truly beautiful, with iridescence in shades of green, purple and blue.

They look wonderful when gathered and swooping in dramatic murmurations across the sky.

Though this is an introduced non-native species, the European starling is fairly commonly spotted in Massachusetts throughout the year and can be spotted in large groups.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

  • Scientific Name: Icterus galbula
  • 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)

The third most commonly spotted blackbird in Massachusetts in the summer, the Baltimore oriole arrives in Massachusetts in April.

These birds may remain in the state as late as November, or even, more rarely, remain in the state year-round. You are most likely to see them between May and October.

The males are distinctive, with bright orange and black coloration and white wing bars. The females are gray-brown on top and yellow beneath.

They are around the size of a robin, but somewhat more slender in form. One amazing thing to look out for if they nest in your area is their amazing hanging nests woven from plant fibers.

Brown-Headed Cowbird

Brown-Headed Cowbird

  • Scientific Name: Molothrus ater
  • Length: 76.3 – 8.7 in (19 – 22 cm)
  • Weight: 1.3 – 1.8 oz (42 – 50 g)
  • Wingspan: 14.2 in (36 cm)

Though rarely, Brown-Headed Cowbirds are seen in Massachusetts in winter, you are far more likely to see them here during the summer, between March and July.

Most migrate south for winter though a few individuals may remain behind.

You may spot these brown-headed blackbirds foraging on the ground around livestock in fields. You won’t see their nests, because they do not make them.

Instead, they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, so they will ‘foster’ their young.

Bobolink

Bobolink

  • Scientific Name: Dolichonyx oryzivorus
  • Length: 5.9-8.3 in (15-21 cm)
  • Weight: 1.0-2.0 oz (29-56 g)
  • Wingspan: 10.6 in (27 cm)

Bobolink can be spotted in Massachusetts during the breeding season. You may see them in the state between May and November.

During the coldest months, they will head south, so they won’t be spotted here during this time.

Look out for the striking breeding males during the summer, when they boast black bellies, white backs, and astonishing yellow ‘hair’ on their heads.

The non-breeding males and females are less striking, with brown, streaky coloration, dark eye-lines, and stripes on their heads.

Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole

  • Scientific Name: Icterus spurius
  • Length: 5.9 – 7.1 in (15 – 18 cm)
  • Weight: 0.6 – 1.0 oz (16 – 28 g)
  • Wingspan: 9.8 in (25 cm)

Orchard orioles, the smallest blackbird species in the US, are not common in Massachusetts. However, they are said to occur regularly in the state and are seen here in summer.

They arrive in April and may remain here as late as January. However, you are most likely to spot them between May and August.

The males have bold coloration, with black colored heads and backs and reddish bellies. The females are greenish-yellow, with darker wings with white bar markings.

Look out for them in open woodland, along river banks, in open shrubland, and back yards. If you are lucky, you might see their hanging, pouch-like nests, or glimpse them by hummingbird nectar feeders.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

  • Scientific Name: Sturnella magna
  • 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)

Sadly, the eastern meadowlark is a near-threatened species. However, they are spotted in Massachusetts during the summer months. You may also hear their pleasing song during the breeding period.

These attractive songbirds are brown and black on their backs and bright yellow underneath. They have distinctive black bands across their chests.

Make sure there are plenty of insects in your garden, and seeds later in the year, to aid this species and attract them to your space.

Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird

  • Scientific Name: Euphagus carolinus
  • Length: 8.3 – 9.8 in (21 – 25 cm)
  • Weight: 1.7 – 2.8 oz (47 – 80 g)
  • Wingspan: 14.6 in (37 cm)

The rusty blackbird is a vulnerable species but can be found in Massachusetts in the winter months. They will typically begin to arrive in September, and some will remain right through until June.

But most will pass through during the migration periods, so October/November and March/April are the best times to spot them in the state.

In winter, the males live up to their name, having shed their glossy black summer feathers and taken on a rusty brown coloration.

The females are grayish-brown, and also have a rusty tinge to their feather edges.

Conclusion

Other accidental and vagrant species of blackbird have also occasionally been glimpsed here in Massachusetts. These include the Bullock’s oriole, yellow-headed blackbird, western meadowlark, Brewer’s blackbird, Great-tailed grackle, and Shiny cowbird. But the above species are those you are most likely to encounter.

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Elizabeth Waddington

Elizabeth Waddington is a conservation, rewilding, organic gardening and sustainability specialist who loves everything nature-related. She loves helping others around the world connect with the wildlife and wonders around them. When not creating wildlife-wise, eco-friendly designs, or writing about the topics that inspire her, she loves spending time watching the birds on and around her own rural property, or heading out on camping or hiking adventures to spot birds and other wildlife in a range of habitats.