20 Types of Black Birds – Our List of What To Look Out For!

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When we talk about black birds (as two words) this is different from when we talk about blackbirds (one word).

The former refers to any bird that is black in hue, while the latter refers to a specific genus of birds. If you see a black bird, it might be a blackbird. But it might belong to an entirely different genus or group of birds.

Blackbirds (one word) are related to one another, and might not even be black. While black birds (two words) can bear no relation to one another whatsoever and have only the hue of their plumage in common.

Black Birds vs Blackbirds

If you catch a fleeting glimpse of a black bird in your garden or when out birdwatching in your area, this might be a blackbird – or not. When working to improve your skills in bird identification, it is useful to make sure that you understand the difference between blackbirds and birds that are black.

What are Blackbirds?

When we talk about blackbirds, this is very different depending on where in the world we are located.

When we talk about blackbirds in North America, we are talking about New World Blackbirds, a group of passerine birds in the Icteridae bird family.

In Europe, North Africa, and Asia, the word blackbird is usually used to refer to the species Turdus merula, also called the common blackbird or Eurasian blackbird. This species is in the thrush family and is not at all closely related to the New World Blackbirds mentioned above.

How Many Different Blackbirds Are There?

There are 103 New World Blackbird species and of these, 25 are spotted in North America, many of these are common birds, regularly spotted in at least some states, and often in many.

What Blackbirds Can Be Seen in North America?

As mentioned above, not all new World blackbirds appear to be black. So a blackbird that you spot might not have overall black plumage at all.

Which Blackbirds Look Black?

However, in identifying a black bird in your garden, looking at blackbirds with predominantly black plumage could be a good place to start. Here are some of the Icterids that have predominantly black plumage:

Red-winged Blackbirds

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)

If you see a black bird, one common species to consider when seeking to identify it is the red-winged blackbird. The males have all-black coloring, except for their reddish-orange wing patches.

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)

Another new world blackbird that you might encounter is the common grackle. These birds are taller than typical blackbirds and have longer tails. The males have a glossy plumage that is somewhat more iridescent than their female counterparts.

Great Tailed Grackle

Great-Tailed Grackle
  • Scientific Name: Quiscalus mexicanus
  • Length: 15.0-18.1 in (38-46 cm)
  • Weight: 3.7-6.7 oz (105-190 g)
  • Wingspan: 18.9-22.8 in (48-58 cm)

Male Great-tailed grackles have long, tapered tails, iridescent black plumage, and yellow eyes. So these are other mostly black birds to look out for in some areas of North America.

Boat-Tailed Grackle

Boat-Tailed Grackle
  • Scientific Name: Quiscalus major
  • Length: 10.2-14.6 in (26-37 cm)
  • Weight: 3.3-8.4 oz (93-239 g)
  • Wingspan: 15.3-19.7 in (39-50 cm)

Another grackle with black plumage is the boat-tailed grackle. The males are glossy and black, with long tails and pointed bills.

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)

This species has males with black bodies. But they also have brown heads which help to distinguish them from other members of this family and other predominantly black birds.

Bronzed Cowbird

Bronzed Cowbird
  • Scientific Name: Molothrus aeneus
  • Length: 7.9 in (20 cm)
  • Weight: 2.3-2.6 oz (64.9-73.9 g)
  • Wingspan: 13.0 in (33 cm)

The males of this species are black, with a glossy dark blue sheen to their wings. They have bright red eyes.

Shiny Cowbird

Shiny Cowbird
  • Scientific Name: Molothrus aeneus
  • Length: 7.9 in (20 cm)
  • Weight: 2.3-2.6 oz (64.9-73.9 g)
  • Wingspan: 13.0 in (33 cm)

With glossy deep purple-black plumage, this is another cowbird species that can be spotted in southern Florida and occasionally elsewhere in the furthest south of the US.

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)

Male rusty blackbirds have glossy black plumage in summer when breeding. However, non-breeding males take on a rusty brown color at others times of the year.

Brewer’s Blackbird

Brewer's Blackbird
  • Scientific Name: Euphagus cyanocephalus
  • Length: 7.9 -9.8 in (20-25 cm)
  • Weight: 1.8 -3.0 oz (50-86 g)
  • Wingspan: 14.6 in (37 cm)

Brewer’s blackbird males are another predominantly black bird within this family. The males of this species are black with purplish and green iridescence visible in some lights on the head and body.

Yellow-Headed Blackbird

Yellow-Headed Blackbird
  • Scientific Name: Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
  • Length: 8.3-10.2 in (21-26 cm)
  • Weight: 1.6-3.5 oz (44-100 g)
  • Wingspan: 16.5-17.3 in (42-44 cm)

Yellow-headed blackbird males live up to their name. They have yellow heads and chests and white wing patches, though the rest of their body is black. Though the yellow color gives the game away most of the time, you might catch a fleeting glimpse and see one of these as a black bird.

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)

Bobolinks are not black outside of the breeding period. But during the breeding period, the males take on their breeding plumage, which is mostly black, with white on their backs and wings and striking yellow ‘hair’ that makes them easily identifiable.

What Other Black Birds Are There?

Of course, there are a great many other stunning birds with predominantly black feathers that do not belong to the group known as the New World Blackbirds. For example, common species of birds seen in North America include:

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)

This non-native Eurasian species is now widespread across North America. Though they may look black from a distance, they are very colorful, with purple, blue, and green tones in their iridescent feathers. They are often found alongside groups of new world blackbirds mentioned above.

The Crow Family: Corvids:

Another important group of black-plumaged birds is the family Corvidae. These are highly intelligent, oscine passerine birds and 133 species are currently identified. Some species in this family found in North America include:

American Crows

American Crow
  • Scientific Name: Corvus brachyrhynchos
  • Length: 16-21 in
  • Weight: 11-21 oz
  • Wingspan: 33-39 in

Another extremely common black bird found in North America is the American crow. These familiar birds are another bird with black plumage to look out for.

Fish Crows

Fish Crow
  • Scientific Name: Corvus ossifragus
  • Length: 10.4–11.5 in
  • Weight: 9.9–11.3 oz
  • Wingspan: 14–16 in

Fish crows look the same as American crows and are commonly distinguished from the above only by their calls. These black birds are found along the east coast of the US.

Common Ravens

Common Ravens
  • Scientific Name: Corvus corax
  • Length: 22.1-27.2 in (56-69 cm)
  • Weight: 24.3-57.3 oz (689-1625 g)
  • Wingspan: 45.7-46.5 in (116-118 cm)

Though not found in the East or on the Great Plains, common ravens are another common black bird in other parts of North America. They are large black birds with black beaks and wedge-shaped tails.

Chihuahuan Ravens

Chihuahuan Ravens
  • Scientific Name: Corvus cryptoleucus
  • Length: 18.1-20.9 in (46-53 cm)
  • Weight: 15.6-23.5 oz (442-667 g)
  • Wingspan: 40.9-43.3 in (104-110 cm)

Very similar in appearance to the common raven, this raven can be seen in the American Southwest as well as in Northern Mexico. These are also all black birds.

Black-billed Magpies

Black-billed Magpies
  • Scientific Name: Pica hudsonia
  • Length: 17.7-23.6 in (45-60 cm)
  • Weight: 5.1-7.4 oz (145-210 g)
  • Wingspan: 22.1-24.0 in (56-61 cm)

Magpies are also within the Corvidae bird family. Though they are mostly black, they also have a lot of white in their plumage, giving them a notable appearance and making them rather easy to identify. Their long blue-black tails also help them to stand out. These magpies with black bills are found in much of the western US and Canada.

Yellow-Billed Magpies

  • Scientific Name: Pica nuttalli
  • Length: 16.9-21.3 in (43-54 cm)
  • Weight: 5.3-6.0 oz (150-170 g)
  • Wingspan: 24.0 in (61 cm)

This other magpie, with a yellow bill, lives only in California and it is on the watch list due to dangers to its population and its restricted range. Its bill is the main factor that sets it apart but like the magpie above, it has black and white plumage.

Cuckoos – Cuculidae:

Other black bird species include members of the Cuculidae bird family. Within this family, black birds include:

Groove-billed Ani

Groove-billed Ani
  • Scientific name: Crotophaga sulcirostris
  • Length: 13.5 in
  • Weight: 3 oz
  • Wingspan: 17 in

These black birds with large bills and ruffled feather appearance are one member of the cuckoo bird family. They visit the Southwestern US, southern Texas, and the Gulf Coast and are mostly seen in these areas during the summer.

Smooth-billed Ani

Smooth-billed Ani

This glossy black bird with a large oversized bill lives mostly in South America. However, a small population can also be found in Florida – though they are increasingly rare and difficult to see.

Of course, the blackbirds of the new world, European starlings, corvids, and cuckoos only represent a small fraction of the many birds with black plumage or partly black plumage that you might encounter where you live.

Some other North American black birds within different families include:

  • Ducks and other waterfowl (many of which have black or mostly black plumage – the black scoter, for example, is one predominantly black bird found in watery environments. There are also the American moorhen, common gallinule, and examples such as the black rail within the Rallidae family)
  • Seabirds such as the black oystercatcher, several cormorants and shags, and many auks, murres, and puffins typically have a lot of black in their plumage.
  • Swifts – Apodidae – such as the black swift.
  • New world vultures – the black vulture is a notable example of a large black bird. The Californian condor and turkey vulture also have a lot of black in their plumage.
  • Birds of prey such as the common black hawk can be found in small parts of the Southwestern US.
  • Several woodpeckers with predominantly black plumage, including the black-backed woodpecker, for example…
  • Phainopepla – such as phainopepla nitens. The males of this species are black with elegant crests and white wing patches. These can be seen in the Southwestern US.
  • Lark buntings – among the new world sparrow species. The breeding males have velvet-black plumage with some white.

Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list.

Identifying birds cannot be achieved by looking at their color alone. But thinking about which black birds might be present in your area and learning more about their other characteristics can help you to get better at bird identification.

What is the Largest Black Bird?

People often ask about which is the largest or biggest black bird. Ravens are larger than common crows, and so are often offered as an answer. But the largest mostly black bird in North America overall is usually said to be the Californian condor. And there are many other larger black or partly black birds around the world.

What Do Black Birds Symbolize?

In many cultures around the world, certain black birds carry significant cultural, symbolic, spiritual, or mythological meanings and connotations.

In some regions, specific black birds can be omens – both positive and negative. Sometimes black birds are considered to be messengers or psychopomps that pass between spiritual realms.

Narrowing down the mythology and spirituality surrounding birds can be fascinating – but can take some time. But it is clear that for those with an interest in these things, seeing a black bird can often have profound significance.

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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.