Small Black Birds: Identification and Fascinating Facts

Identifying small black birds can be tricky with so many species out there. One fun fact is that these birds range vastly in size, habitat, and behavior. This article will guide you through the types of small black birds, how to identify them, and share some fascinating facts along the way.

Keep reading to become a birdwatching pro!

Key Takeaways

  • Small black birds come in various types such as the Red-winged Blackbird, European Starling, Brown-headed Cowbird, Downy Woodpecker, Dark-eyed Junco, Turkey Vulture, American Crow, Double-crested Cormorant, Common Grackle, Brewer’s Blackbird, Common Raven, Yellow-headed Blackbird and Rusty Blackbird.
  • Each type of small black bird has distinct physical features and behaviors that make them intriguing to observe and study. For example: The European Starling is known for its adaptability to different habitats while the Yellow-headed Blackbird builds nests among cattails in wetlands.
  • These birds play important ecological roles such as controlling insect populations (like Downy Woodpeckers) or aiding in seed dispersal (like Dark-eyed Juncos), contributing to the balance of their ecosystems.

Types of Small Black Birds

The different types of small black birds include the Red-winged Blackbird, European Starling, Brown-headed Cowbird, Downy Woodpecker, Dark-eyed Junco, Turkey Vulture, American Crow, Double-crested Cormorant, Common Grackle, Brewer’s Blackbird, Common Raven, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird and more.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbirds are easy to spot with their shiny black feathers and bright red shoulder patches edged with yellow. They often live in wetlands, fields, and on the edges of woods where you can hear their musical trill.

These birds love seeds and insects, making them common visitors at bird feeders.

Males show off their red wings to impress females during mating season. They are also very protective of their space and will bravely defend their nest from intruders. Look for Red-winged Blackbirds flying in a wavy pattern across the sky as you move towards our next small black bird, the European Starling.

European Starling

The European Starling, with its glossy black plumage and iridescent sheen, is a medium-sized songbird. Featuring short tails and triangular wings, these birds are known for their adaptability to various habitats.

They can be found in urban areas as well as rural landscapes across North America. Their melodious songs have earned them a place among the most talented mimics in the bird world.

European Starlings exhibit remarkable nesting behaviors, often forming large colonies in tree hollows or building crevices during the breeding season. These invasive birds were introduced to North America in the 19th century and have since become a common sight throughout the continent.

Brown-headed Cowbird

Moving on from the European Starling, let’s explore the Brown-headed Cowbird. As the only North American bird that lays its eggs in the nests of other birds, this small blackbird has an interesting reproduction strategy.

The male has a glossy black body with a brown head while the female is more subdued in coloration, making them stand out among other small black birds. They are often seen around open pastures and grasslands, foraging on the ground for seeds and insects.

Interestingly, they don’t build their own nests but lay eggs in the nests of other bird species to be raised by them.

This unique behavior can sometimes lead to negative impacts on host bird populations as cowbird chicks may outcompete or even cause abandonment of host nestlings due to their larger size and demanding nature.

Downy Woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker is a small black and white bird with a short bill and a straight-backed posture. They have distinctive black and white markings, with a white breast, black wings dotted with white spots, and a broad white stripe down the middle of their back.

These birds are often found in woodlands, parks, and suburban areas across North America. Known for their drumming behavior on trees to communicate and establish territory, they also feed on insects by probing tree bark or catching insects in flight.

The male has a red patch on the back of its head, while the female does not.

Dark-eyed Junco

Moving on from the remarkable Downy Woodpecker, another fascinating small black bird is the Dark-eyed Junco. These birds are commonly found in North America and are known for their dark hood-like plumage contrasting with their white outer tail feathers.

They often forage on the ground for seeds and insects, making them frequent visitors to backyards. Dark-eyed Juncos have different sub-species with variations in color patterns which can make identification an interesting challenge for birdwatchers.

These delightful little birds also play a role in seed dispersal, aiding in maintaining healthy forest ecosystems.

Turkey Vulture

Moving on from the small black bird species, we come to the distinctive Turkey Vulture. With its large size and featherless red head, this bird is a common sight in North America. Its soaring flight and keen sense of smell make it an efficient scavenger, feeding on carrion.

This vulture has an important ecological role, cleaning up carcasses and helping to prevent the spread of disease.

The Turkey Vulture’s wingspan can reach up to 6 feet (1.8 meters), and its dark plumage and red head make it unique among birds of prey. Its preference for open areas such as fields, deserts, and highways makes it easy to spot during migration or while searching for food.

For those interested in the Turkey Vulture’s scavenging habits, National Geographic’s article on bird feeding patterns provides fascinating insights into avian diets.

American Crow

The American Crow is a common and adaptable bird found throughout North America. It has glossy black plumage, a distinctive cawing call, and intelligent behavior. These birds are often seen in urban areas, fields, forests, and along coastlines.

They are opportunistic feeders with varied diets including insects, small mammals, carrion, fruits, and seeds. Known for their problem-solving abilities and complex social structures within their groups called murders, American Crows are fascinating subjects for bird watchers and researchers alike.

With its striking appearance and intriguing behaviors such as playing games or using tools to extract food from hard-to-reach places, the American Crow holds a special place in avian diversity.

Double-crested Cormorant

The Double-crested Cormorant is a large, dark waterbird with a long neck and a hooked bill. They are excellent divers and primarily feed on fish. These birds can be found in North America, nesting in colonies near bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, or coastal areas.

Despite their ungainly appearance on land, they are agile flyers and skilled swimmers.

As part of the cormorant family, these birds have an intriguing way of hunting underwater – they dive from the surface and propel themselves using their feet to catch prey below the water’s surface.

Their physical characteristics include black plumage with orange facial skin and distinctive tufts of feathers on either side of their head during breeding season. The Double-crested Cormorant plays an important role within its ecosystem but has also been subject to controversy due to perceived competition with human fishing activities.

Common Grackle

The Common Grackle is a small blackbird native to North America. It’s known for its iridescent feathers that appear blue, green, or purple in the sunlight. You can often find these birds in open habitats like fields, meadows, and urban areas where they forage for insects, seeds, and grains.

Interestingly, during breeding season, male Common Grackles create loud and intricate sounds as part of their mating display. These birds also play an essential role in seed dispersal and insect control within their ecosystems.

In addition to being strikingly beautiful with their glossy plumage, Common Grackles are highly adaptable and resilient avian species that demonstrate fascinating behaviors worth observing by wildlife enthusiasts or bird watchers eager to learn more about North American birds’ diverse range of habits.

Brewer’s Blackbird

The Brewer’s Blackbird is a small, glossy black bird with a sleek appearance. The males have bright yellow eyes and iridescent purple heads that catch the light. They are often seen foraging on the ground in open areas, including fields, roadsides, and parking lots.

These birds are opportunistic feeders and will eat insects, seeds, grains, and even human food scraps.

Brewer’s Blackbirds are known for their distinct “chuck” calls and social behavior. They form large flocks outside of the breeding season and can be quite vocal. During mating season, males perform an elaborate display to attract females by puffing up their feathers and spreading their wings while singing.

These intelligent birds have adapted well to human environments and can often be spotted scavenging around urban areas or perched on fences or power lines.

Common Raven

The Common Raven is a large, all-black bird with a deep, croaking call. Their intelligence and adaptability make them fascinating to observe for bird enthusiasts and researchers alike.

These birds are known for their problem-solving abilities and complex vocalizations, often displaying playful behavior in the wild. Among the types of black birds, the Common Raven stands out due to its remarkable intelligence and distinctive vocalizations.

Moving on to “Yellow-headed Blackbird,” this species presents unique characteristics that set it apart from other small black birds commonly found in North America.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

The Yellow-headed Blackbird is a small black bird with striking yellow plumage on its head and chest. Found in marshes, reed beds, and wetlands across North America, these birds are known for their distinctive call and unique nesting habits.

They often build their nests among cattails, using the plants to create a floating platform above the water. During breeding season, male Yellow-headed Blackbirds use their vibrant colors and loud calls to attract mates and establish territories in their habitat.

Moving on to “Rusty Blackbird,” another fascinating small black bird species that showcases unique behaviors and characteristics.

Rusty Blackbird

Moving on from the bright yellow-headed blackbird, we come to the rusty blackbird. Unlike its colorful cousin, the rusty blackbird is a small, unassuming bird with an overall dusky appearance.

Its name comes from the subtle rust-colored edges of its feathers. This bird is known for its distinctive call and can often be found in wet woodland areas during breeding season, while it frequents flooded forests and marshes during migration and winter months.

Unfortunately, this species has been experiencing significant population declines in recent years, making it a focus of conservation efforts.

Pileated Woodpecker

The Pileated Woodpecker is a striking, large black bird with a distinctive red crest. They are known for their loud drumming and have a wingspan of around 30 inches. This woodpecker can be found in mature forests across North America, where they create rectangular-shaped holes in trees while searching for insects.

Their habitat consists of dense woods, especially old-growth forests with large trees.

Pileated Woodpeckers are crucial to forest ecosystems as they control insect populations and provide nesting cavities for other bird species like ducks and owls. These remarkable birds play an important role in maintaining the balance of woodland habitats.

Baltimore Oriole

Moving from the striking looks and impressive size of the Pileated Woodpecker to the charming Baltimore Oriole, this small black bird is known for its vibrant orange plumage. The male boasts a brilliant orange belly and underside of wings, while the female has more subdued colors with yellow-orange accents.

Found in open woodlands, parks, and backyards across eastern North America during summer, these orioles are skilled at building pendulous nests using plant fibers and other materials.

Their sweet singing adds a delightful charm to any outdoor setting, making them a favorite for birdwatchers.

Black-billed Magpie

Moving on from the vibrant plumage of the Baltimore Oriole, we come to the striking black and white beauty known as the Black-billed Magpie. With its glossy black plumage, long tail, and distinctive iridescent blue-green markings, this bird is a sight to behold.

Found in open country across western North America, these intelligent birds are known for their bold behaviors and opportunistic feeding habits. They are often seen foraging for insects, small animals, grains, and fruits.

Interestingly, they are also notorious for their habit of collecting shiny objects to decorate their nests with.

Black-billed Magpies have complex social structures and communication methods that include various vocalizations and body language. These birds can be found nesting in tall trees or bushes close to open areas where they can easily find food.

Steller’s Jay

Steller’s Jay is a small black bird with striking blue feathers on its head, wings, and tail. It can be found in coniferous forests across North America. These intelligent birds are known for their mimicry of other bird species and have a diverse diet consisting of insects, fruits, seeds, and even small vertebrates.

Their distinctive raucous calls often fill the forest air as they move through the treetops.

Moving to the next type of small black bird – Great-tailed Grackle..

Great-tailed Grackle

The Great-tailed Grackle is a glossy black bird with striking yellow eyes and a long, keel-shaped tail. These birds are known for their bold and resourceful behavior, often found scavenging around human settlements.

They have adapted well to human environments and can be seen in urban areas, parks, and agricultural fields. Their loud and varied calls make them easily recognizable, adding a lively charm to the surroundings.

Great-tailed Grackles are highly social birds that gather in large flocks during non-breeding seasons. They exhibit complex social structures within these groups, displaying interesting behaviors such as cooperative breeding and communal roosting sites.

Additionally, they are excellent mimics, capable of imitating other bird species’ calls and even some mechanical sounds like car alarms or telephones. The adaptability and intelligence of the Great-tailed Grackle make it a fascinating subject for wildlife observation enthusiasts.

Boat-tailed Grackle

The Great-tailed Grackle is often confused with the Boat-tailed Grackle due to their similar appearances. The Boat-tailed Grackle, known for its iridescent black plumage and distinctive long, keel-shaped tail, can be found near marshes, coastal areas, and wetlands in the southeastern United States.

These birds are known for their loud calls and nest-building skills, creating cup-shaped nests using grasses and mud. Interestingly, these grackles have adapted well to human habitats and are often seen foraging in urban areas.

Their omnivorous diet includes insects, small vertebrates, fruits, seeds, and even garbage.

Identification & Fun Facts

Get to know the physical characteristics, habitat and behavior, superstitions and symbolism, as well as interesting facts about each species of small black birds. Dive deep into the fascinating world of these feathered creatures!

Physical characteristics

These small black birds vary in size, ranging from the petite Dark-eyed Junco to the larger Turkey Vulture. Their plumage is predominantly black, sometimes with iridescent or glossy sheens.

The Red-winged Blackbird flaunts red and yellow shoulder patches, while the European Starling boasts speckled plumage that shifts color in different lighting. In contrast, the American Crow features a sturdy bill and a distinct cawing call.

Each species exhibits unique physical traits for easy identification in their natural habitats.

Additionally, some of these birds have sleek feathers for streamlined flight while others display more rugged textures. These differences contribute to their resilience across diverse habitats such as woodlands, wetlands, fields, and urban environments.

Habitat & behavior

These small black birds can be found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, marshes, grasslands, and urban areas. They are adaptable and can thrive in diverse environments.

Many of these birds are also known for their territorial behavior during the breeding season, where they defend their nesting sites vigorously. Additionally, some species display communal roosting behavior outside of the breeding season, gathering in large flocks for safety and warmth.

The behavior of these small black birds varies widely among different species. Some are known for their distinctive vocalizations and complex social structures within their groups while others exhibit impressive feeding strategies such as using tools to extract insects from trees or scavenging for food in urban settings.

Superstitions and symbolism

After learning about the habitat and behavior of small black birds, it’s interesting to note the superstitions and symbolism surrounding these fascinating creatures. In some cultures, black birds are seen as symbols of mystery and magic.

They are often associated with omens or warnings, while in other beliefs they represent transformation and adaptation. Furthermore, many superstitions revolve around specific species of black birds, attributing different meanings to their presence or actions.

Many people also associate black birds with death or misfortune due to their dark coloration. However, it’s important to remember that these superstitions vary widely across different cultures and traditions, making them a subject of intrigue for bird enthusiasts and folklore enthusiasts alike.

Interesting facts about each species

Now, let’s explore some interesting facts about each species of small black birds. The Red-winged Blackbird is known for its distinctive call and aggressive defense of its territory during breeding season.

European Starlings are incredible mimics, able to imitate the songs of other birds and even mechanical sounds like car alarms. Brown-headed Cowbirds are “brood parasites,” laying their eggs in the nests of other bird species to be raised by unwitting foster parents.

The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker in North America, often seen hopping on tree branches in search of insects. Dark-eyed Juncos have different color variations based on their habitat, with “slate-colored” and “Oregon” forms being most common.

Turkey Vultures have an excellent sense of smell, helping them locate carrion from great distances. American Crows are highly intelligent and can recognize human faces.

Double-crested Cormorants are skilled divers, using their webbed feet to propel themselves underwater in pursuit of fish prey. Common Grackles exhibit iridescence in their plumage when viewed under certain light conditions, displaying shimmering colors across a spectrum from purple to green.


In conclusion, small black birds come in a variety of types and have unique characteristics. Their physical features, behaviors, and habitats make them fascinating creatures to observe.

Bird enthusiasts can enjoy identifying these birds and learning interesting facts about them while contributing to their conservation efforts. With the right knowledge and appreciation, these small black birds will continue to capture our attention for years to come.


1. How do I tell one kind of small black bird from another?

You can use a bird identification guide to look at pictures and read tips on spotting the differences in bird colors, shapes, and behavior.

2. Where do small black birds live?

Small black birds live in many places like woods, fields, and parks. Bird habitats can change with seasons because some fly to new places during migration.

3. Why is it important to learn about black bird types?

Learning about different common black birds helps with bird watching and understanding how they live – which is a big part of bird conservation.

4. What should I look for when identifying small black birds?

When you’re trying to identify a small black bird look closely at its size, markings, the way it acts, and where it’s found using your bird identification tips.

5. Can watching small birds help scientists?

Yes! People who love ornithology study birds by watching them. They see how birds behave in their homes (habitats) which can give clues about the health of our environment.

Julian Goldie - Owner of

Julian Goldie

I'm a bird enthusiast and creator of Chipper Birds, a blog sharing my experience caring for birds. I've traveled the world bird watching and I'm committed to helping others with bird care. Contact me at [email protected] for assistance.