Like many other southern states near the Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi can be a birder’s paradise. From year-round residents to the colorful birds that migrate to warmer shores every year, Mississippi has a lot of interesting birds.
Some are easy to identify, while others can be difficult, especially from long distances. In this article, we’ll walk through some of the different blackbirds you may see in Mississippi.
Some of these birds are new world blackbirds, which make up the family Icteridae. Birds like meadowlarks and orioles, while they wouldn’t initially be the birds that come to mind when you hear the term “blackbird,” do belong to that family as well.
Meanwhile, some birds that are black like starlings and crows belong to other families. For the purposes of this list, we’ll keep the focus on blackbirds in the Icteridae family that you may see in Mississippi.
- Scientific name: Agelaius phoeniceus
- Length: 6.7-9.1 inches (all bird length estimates via Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology)
One of America’s most common birds, you’ve probably heard the red-winged blackbird’s iconic “konk-la-ree” song in a marshy area sometime in your life, regardless of where you’re located in the lower 48.
While they’re most commonly sighted or heard amongst the marshy reeds, you may also find red-winged blackbirds in farm fields or open meadows, especially when they begin to flock for their annual migrations.
Some Mississippi residents may see red-winged blackbirds all year-round.
Male red-winged blackbirds are easily identifiable by their red shoulder patches, which provide a stark contrast against their black bodies, especially when the birds are in flight.
Female birds are a bit trickier to identify, as they exhibit a streaky brown and white coloration, which could be confused with other birds such as sparrows.
- Scientific name: Euphagus carolinus
- Length: 8.3-9.8 inches
Rusty blackbirds, which have seen their numbers drop in recent decades, breed throughout Canada and up into Alaska, but they winter in the southeastern United States, including Mississippi.
If you’re trying to spot one during their non-breeding season, you’ll probably have the most luck in a pasture or meadow near wetlands or marshes.
Male breeding rusty blackbirds are all black with yellow patch eyes while breeding female birds exhibit more of a grayish, blue-ish color.
Both will display a brown coloration in the fall, with female birds showing some of that blue-gray color on their tails and a buffy, tan front complementing dark brown wings.
Both males and female birds have a faint patch behind the eye angling toward their bill, almost like an eyebrow.
- Scientific name: Euphagus cyanocephalus
- Length: 7.9-8.7 inches
Like rusty blackbirds, the non-breeding season is the only time you’re likely to spot Brewer’s blackbird in Mississippi. Common in their range in open habitats, fall males look similar to male rusty blackbirds.
Some males have more of a blue/purple gloss than rusty blackbirds, similar to grackles’ coloration in good light.
Males have yellow eyes, while female birds have brown eyes. Males may exhibit a blue-ish to a purple-ish sheen. Female birds are a more dull gray-brown color.
- Scientific name: Quiscalus quiscula
- Length: 11-13.4 inches
These relatively large blackbirds are common across the United States, from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.
In many areas, including Mississippi, grackles remain in the state year-round and can be seen pretty much anywhere, from open fields and bird feeders in your backyard to marshes and other water sources.
At feeders, common grackles can sometimes be aggressive, noisy, and messy, so some backyard birdwatchers may consider them a nuisance.
Grackles are bigger than the average blackbird but shorter than crows with proportionately longer tails. Like some other blackbirds, males can appear a shiny blue-purple color, especially in bright lighting.
Females are smaller than males with a body that is a brown color—and is less glossy than males. Immature grackles have brown eyes, which fade to a pale yellow color in both males and females as they mature.
- Scientific name: Quiscalus major
- Length: 10-2-14.6 inches
These long-tailed grackles are native to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, much of Florida, and up the Atlantic coast of the United States.
With that in mind, their range in Mississippi is fairly restricted to salt marshes along the 62 miles of coastal shoreline in the state.
There are several subspecies of boat-tailed grackles. The subspecies alabamensis is the subspecies seen in Mississippi and has a brown iris of the eye.
This is the same as other subspecies of boat-tailed grackles west of Florida, but different than the yellow iris of the Atlantic coast grackles.
Female boat-tailed grackles are a light, tawny brown color with black tails, while males are all black, with a blue sheen in the right lighting that develops as they grow from immature to mature.
If you can’t get a sight of the tail, male boat-tailed grackles look very similar to common grackles, with a slightly more rounded head.
Females have a coloration that’s more brown-orange than the common grackle and don’t have the blue crown that female common grackles do.
- Scientific name: Molothrus after
- Length: 6.3-7.9 inches
Brown-headed cowbirds are year-round residents of Mississippi, found in farm fields and woodlands, most often near ground level on the lookout for food.
The chocolate brown head for which this species is named is present in males and contrasts starkly with the birds’ glossy black bodies.
Juvenile and female-brown-headed cowbirds are more difficult to identify. Both are brown with brown heads, with the juveniles being more streaky, especially on their bellies and breasts.
Females are a more consistent brown color throughout their bodies. One difference between brown-headed cowbirds and other blackbirds like the rusty and Brewer’s blackbirds is the brown-headed cowbird’s stockier bill.
Brown-headed cowbirds are brood parasites, meaning they lay their eggs in the nests of other species, which can have negative effects on the host species.
- Scientific name: Molothrus aeneus
- Length: 7.9 inches
The Mississippi Ornithological Society categorizes bronzed cowbirds as casual to Mississippi, meaning they generally occur between four to eight years in a ten-year period.
Unlike other birds on this list that have yellow or brown eyes, males have red eyes that are a dead giveaway when seen at a close distance. Juveniles are all brown.
As they mature, males will turn a glossy black color, while females are a gray-brown color with brown eyes.
One distinguishing characteristic of the bronzed cowbird is a thick nape on males that are used for a courtship display in which males will puff out their feathers in hopes of impressing a mate.
Bronzed cowbirds also have a larger bill than brown-headed cowbirds.
Like brown-headed cowbirds, bronzed cowbirds are brood parasites, which won’t win them any popularity contests with some backyard bird enthusiasts.
- Scientific name: Dolichonyx oryzivorus
- Length: 5.9-8.3 inches
Bobolinks are most common in hayfields and meadows, though they’re not regular residents of Mississippi.
Bobolinks have one of the longer songbird migrations you’ll see, as they spend their breeding season in grounds north of Mississippi and travel to South American countries like Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina each winter.
If you’re going to see a Bobolink in Mississippi, it will be as they pass through the state as part of a southern or northern migration.
Male bobolinks are the only American bird with dark feathers below and lighter colors above, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation, with white and gray wings and a tan back of its head and neck.
If you see a breeding male, its large tan patch is unmistakable. Females and non-breeding males aren’t as easy to identify.
Females and immature males are a buffy, almost yellow color with dark streaks down their wings and back.
Struggling to identify a black bird you’ve seen in Mississippi?
The Mississippi Ornithological Society considers great-tailed grackles and shiny cowbirds, both closely related to other birds on this list, as accidental to Mississippi, meaning they generally occur three or fewer years during a 10-year period.
More common black birds that didn’t make this list include larger birds like crows or vultures, as well as colorful songbirds like orioles or warblers that include some black on their bodies.
Since their introduction to North America in the 1800s, European starlings have taken over many locations, from city parks to farm fields.
In some areas, you may see them grouping up into huge flocks called murmurations. Their shiny, white-tipped feathers can be seen in every state of the lower 48.
Mississippi is also home to many woodpeckers, shorebirds, plovers, and ducks that may be black.