Did you recently see a mystery BLACK and WHITE bird in Iowa?
If so, I’m guessing you are trying to identify the species correctly!
Well, you’re in the right place. Below, you will learn about the different BLACK and WHITE birds found in Iowa. I’ve included high-quality pictures and range maps to help you!
Fortunately, many of the black and white birds listed below visit bird feeders, so you have a great chance of attracting them to your yard. If you’re incredibly fortunate, you may even see one at my bird feeding station right now! I have a LIVE high-definition camera watching my bird feeders 24/7. 🙂
16 BLACK and WHITE birds that live in Iowa:
#1. White-breasted Nuthatch
- Sitta carolinensis
- Both sexes look almost the same.
- Males have a black cap on the top of their heads.
- Females display a lighter, more gray crown.
White-breasted Nuthatches are compact birds with no neck, a short tail, and a long pointy bill. Colorwise, they have distinctive white cheeks and chest, a black back and stripes, and a gray back.
White-breasted Nuthatch Range Map
Look for these grey, black, and white birds in Iowa in deciduous forests. But they adapt well to the presence of humans and are often seen at parks, cemeteries, and wooded backyards visiting bird feeders. Use sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, safflower seeds, and mealworms to attract nuthatches.
- RELATED: 24 Common BACKYARD Birds in Iowa!
These birds are incredibly vocal AND make distinctive noises that are relatively easy to identify! You are most likely to hear a “yank” call, which is given at any time of year. This loud and distinctive noise is often repeated several times in a row. (Press PLAY to listen below)
#2. Dark-eyed Junco
- Junco hyemalis
- Smooth and soft-looking slate gray with a white belly.
- Small pale bill, long tail with white outer feathers.
Dark-eyed Juncos are probably the most common black and white birds in Iowa. A recent estimate sets their population around 630 million.
You can easily identify these sparrows by how smooth their feathers look. It appears like they would be as soft as a chinchilla to touch. 🙂
Dark-eyed Junco Range Map
This species is found in pine and mixed-coniferous forests when they breed, but in winter, they are in fields, parks, woodlands, and backyards. Dark-eyed Juncos like to visit feeders in the winter, but ONLY ON THE GROUND, where they consume fallen seeds.
#3. Black-capped Chickadee
- Poecile atricapillus
These black and white birds are one of the most beloved species in Iowa, and it’s easy to see why! Black-capped Chickadees are often described as “cute.” They are tiny, with an oversized head that features a black cap and bib.
Naturally, look for them in open deciduous forests, thickets, and cottonwood groves. They also adapt easily to the presence of people and are common to see in backyards and parks.
Black-capped Chickadee Range Map
In fact, once you set up a new bird feeder, chickadees will likely be the first birds to visit, as they are curious about anything new in their territory. The best foods to use are sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet. Their small size and athletic ability mean these birds can use just about any type of feeder!
#4. Northern Mockingbird
- Mimus polyglottos
- Medium-sized songbird with a LONG, slender tail.
- Distinctive white wing patches that are visible when in flight.
These black and white birds are hard to miss in Iowa!
First, Northern Mockingbirds LOVE to sing, and they rarely stop. Sometimes they will even sing through the entire night. If this happens to you, it’s advised to keep your windows closed if you want to get any sleep. 🙂
Northern Mockingbird Range Map
In addition, Northern Mockingbirds have bold personalities. For example, it’s common for them to harass other birds by flying slowly around them and then approaching with their wings up, showing off their white wing patches.
They are common in backyards but rarely eat from bird feeders. Nonetheless, I have heard from many people complaining that mockingbirds are scaring away the other birds from their feeders, even though mockingbirds don’t eat from feeders themselves!
#5. Downy Woodpecker
- Dryobates pubescens
- A shorter bill that is relatively small compared to other woodpecker species.
- White bellies, with a mostly black back that features streaks and spots of white.
- Male birds have a distinctive red spot on the back of their head.
Downy Woodpeckers are one of the most common black and white birds in Iowa!
Naturally, they are seen in deciduous woods that have a water source nearby. But these birds have adapted well to human development and are commonly observed in suburban backyards, parks, orchards, and cemeteries.
Downy Woodpecker Range Map
Luckily, this black and white species is easy to draw to your backyard. The best foods to use are suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts (including peanut butter). You may even spot them drinking sugar water from your hummingbird feeders! If you use suet products to attract woodpeckers, use a specialized suet bird feeder.
#6. Hairy Woodpecker
- Dryobates villosus
- Their bodies are black and white overall with a long, chisel-like bill.
- Male birds can be identified by a red patch on their heads, which females lack.
These black and white birds are common in Iowa in mature forests, suburban backyards, urban parks, swamps, orchards, and even cemeteries. Appearance-wise, Hairy Woodpeckers have been compared to soldiers, as they have cleanly striped heads and an erect, straight-backed posture while on trees.
Hairy Woodpecker Range Map
Hairy Woodpeckers can be tricky to identify because they look almost identical to Downy Woodpeckers! These two birds are confusing to many people and present a problem when figuring out the correct species.
Here are 3 ways to differentiate Hairy vs. Downy Woodpeckers:
- Hairy Woodpeckers are larger and measure 9 – 11 inches long, which is about the same size as an American Robin. A Downy is smaller and only measures 6 – 7 inches in length, slightly bigger than a House Sparrow.
- Looking at the size of their bills in relation to their head is my FAVORITE way to tell these woodpeckers apart. Downys have a tiny bill, which measures a bit less than half the length of their head, while Hairys have a bill almost the same length as their head.
Outer tail feathers:
- If all else fails, try to get a good look at their outer tail feathers. Hairys will be completely white, while Downys are spotted black.
*Just a warning that almost all species of woodpeckers are black and white. So if the bird you saw was a woodpecker but NOT a Downy or Hairy, check out the below article for additional help.* 🙂
#7. Snow Bunting
- Plectrophenax nivalis
- Round bodied with a short thick conical bill.
- Breeding males are almost all white, with black on the back.
- Females and non-breeding males are white but have brown-streaked backs and brownish heads.
These charming black and white birds are a delight to see in Iowa!
But since Snow Buntings choose frigid locations high in the Arctic to breed, your best chance to find them is in winter in open fields along the roadside.
Snow Bunting Range Map
Even in summer, Snow Buntings have to work hard to keep their hatchlings warm enough to survive. They build their nests in the deep cracks of rocks and use a thick fur lining to protect the eggs. They never really leave the nest, ensuring it stays warm, and the male comes and feeds the mother every fifteen minutes.
#8. Common Loon
- Gavia immer
- Long bodies with a strong, thick, dagger-like bill. They sit low in the water.
- Breeding adults have a black head and a black and white checkerboard back.
- Non-breeding adults are much duller and have a uniformly grayish back and head.
Common Loons are one of my FAVORITE black and white birds in Iowa.
These gorgeous waterbirds are strong and fast swimmers and routinely catch fish in high-speed underwater chases. In fact, they have even adapted solid bones (most bird bones are hollow), which makes it easier to dive since they are less buoyant.
Common Loon Range Map
To help prevent other birds from stealing their food, Common Loons typically swallow their prize while still underwater. And to ensure the slippery fish doesn’t escape once caught, loons have rear-facing projections inside their mouth that sink in and provide a tight grip.
One of my favorite things about these black and white birds is the wonderful, eerie sounds they make. Listen for a repertoire of vocalizations, which all signify something. LISTEN BELOW!
For example, their tremolo calls are used when alarmed. Yodeling is given by males to announce their territories. And their famous haunting wail calls help mated pairs locate each other.
#9. Common Goldeneye
- Bucephala clangula
How to identify:
- Males have a dark green head, a bright yellow eye, and a distinctive white cheek patch. The body is mostly white with a black back and rump.
- Females have a brown head, a short dark bill with a yellow tip at the end, and a pale yellow eye. Look for their white neck collar and grayish bodies.
Common Goldeneyes are expert diving ducks. These birds can stay underwater for up to a minute as they search for their prey, which includes aquatic invertebrates, fish, fish eggs, along with seeds and tubers from submerged vegetation.
Luckily, their population has remained strong and stable. One of their biggest threats is that they are cavity nesters and rely upon forestry practices that don’t cut down dead trees. Many dedicated people have put up nest boxes in their breeding range to help provide more good nesting spots.
Common Goldeneye Range Map
Hunters commonly refer to the Common Goldeneye as the “whistler” because of their wings’ distinctive whistling noises when flying.
*Just a warning that various other ducks in Iowa are black and white, but the Common Goldeneye is the ONLY one on this list. So if the bird you saw was a duck but NOT a Common Goldeneye, check out the below article for additional help.* 🙂
#10. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
- Pheucticus ludovicianus
- Stocky birds with a large, triangular bill. About the size of an American Robin.
- Males have black backs and wings, with a distinctive red mark on their white breast.
- Females are heavily streaked with white eyebrows and a pale bill.
These black and white birds are common visitors to feeders in Iowa!
It’s easy to see how these beautiful birds got their name. One look at the males, and you’ll immediately notice the bright red plumage topping their white breasts. On the other hand, females can be difficult to identify, as they look similar to many other brown birds.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks use their huge triangular bill to crack open sunflower seeds in backyards. I’ve never seen one of them use a tube feeder; I don’t think the perches provide enough space. So instead, the best feeders to attract them are hoppers, platforms, or trays.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak Range Map
Rose-breasted Grosbeak males sing to establish territories and attract females. Unfortunately, when the female shows up, the male sometimes plays hard-to-get, rejecting her for a day or two before finally accepting her as a mate! But to make up for this behavior, they give the females a break and help sit on the nest to keep the eggs warm.
#11. Black-and-White Warbler
- Mniotilta varia
- The body coloring is streaked black and white, with black wings and two white wing bars.
Black-and-White Warblers are one of the most striking birds in Iowa!
Their contrasting black and white streaks make them look like they’ve been painted in zebra print. Both males and females have black and white streaks on their heads and white eyebrows with a black bar underneath.
Look for them in mature forests with a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees. Black-and-White Warblers have also been known to live in swampy forests in the southern part of their range.
Like most other warblers, they eat insects and spiders, but they’re unique in how they forage. Instead of picking through leaf litter on the ground, these talented birds walk up and down tree trunks searching for tasty bites in the bark!
#12. Blackpoll Warbler
- Setophaga striata
- Their coloring is black, white, and gray.
- A black cap, white cheeks, and gray-barred wings are typical.
The Blackpoll Warbler’s song is so high-pitched it’s sometimes called nature’s hearing test! The fast, chipping song can easily be confused for an insect. It lasts about three seconds and sounds like “tsit tsit TSIT TSIT tsit tsit.”
Blackpoll Warblers travel huge distances between their breeding grounds and their winter habitat for such small birds. They can fly nonstop for up to three days over the ocean to their winter home in South America!
This migration takes a combination of endurance, food stores, and prevailing wind that pushes them toward their destination. It’s truly an incredible feat!
To help this little black and white bird with its annual trip, consider planting native trees or bushes that the warblers can use as a resting and foraging stop.
#13. Lark Bunting
- Calamospiza melanocorys
- A large sparrow that has a round-shaped and thick conical bill.
- Males are black with a white patch on their wing and a bluish-gray bill.
- Females and immature males are brown, black, and white, speckled with thick light brown streaks on the breast and a pale white stripe over the eye.
Males are easy to identify because they’re almost all black, except for the white feathers on their wings.
Lark Buntings walk or hop while searching for food in open areas. But the interesting thing they will do is gallop on the ground when chasing a fast-running insect. Females were found to run faster than males. 🙂
Lark Bunting Range Map
Both sexes can be aggressive when other birds come into their territory. Males flick their wings, move their bodies, and ruffle their feathers. At the same time, females will chase other birds away from their nests.
#14. Loggerhead Shrike
- Lanius ludovicianus
- Grey songbird with a chunky black mask.
- Black wings. Prominent white flashes appear during flight.
- Look for their distinctive hooked bill.
Don’t let their small size fool you.
These white, black, and grey birds are lethal predators in Iowa!
Loggerhead Shrikes eat a variety of prey items, including birds, insects, lizards, and small mammals. They are typically found in grasslands, where they hunt by perching themselves on a fence, utility post, or another prominent perch.
Loggerhead Shrike Range Map
They have even adapted to hunting food that is poisonous to other species. A Monarch Butterfly is a great example, which is toxic to most animals due to the milkweed it consumes. But Loggerhead Shrikes don’t care. They will impale the butterfly, then let it sit for a few days before consuming it, which provides time for the poisons to break down!
- RELATED: 17 Ways to Attract MORE Butterflies!
#15. Eastern Kingbird
- Tyrannus tyrannus
- Medium-sized bird with black head and back.
- White underparts.
- Distinct white-tipped tail.
Look for these black and white birds in Iowa in open areas.
Unfortunately, Eastern Kingbirds aren’t in North America long. Towards the end of summer, these long-distance migrants fly back to South America to spend the winter.
Eastern Kingbird Range Map
Eastern Kingbirds are often observed perching on fence posts, wires, or exposed vegetation as they watch and wait for insects to fly past. Once their prey is seen, they fly out to grab their meal. To swallow large insects whole, kingbirds often have to beat them against their perch to soften them up!
Eastern Kingbirds can be VERY aggressive towards each other and other species when defending their nests and territories. They are known to attack animals much larger than themselves, such as squirrels, hawks, eagles, and crows! In fact, their scientific name Tyrannus means “king or tyrant,” which is how these birds tend to act!
#16. Western Grebe
- Aechmophorus occidentalis
- A slender water bird with a long neck and long dagger-like bill.
- Black upperparts and a black cap on their head.
- White neck and cheeks. Red eyes.
Western Grebes are typically found in deep inland lakes with marshy edges during the summer breeding season, then they migrate to the Pacific Ocean for the remainder of the year. It’s rare to ever see these black and white birds in Iowa.
Western Grebe Range Map
One look at their bill, and you can tell that Western Grebes are experts at catching fish. They take long, deep dives looking for their prey. Interestingly, while preening themselves, they tend to eat their feathers, which are thought to help protect their stomach from sharp fish bones!
Western Grebes are known for their elaborate courtship display, which you have to SEE to believe. (Press PLAY below to watch) The male and female lift themselves out of the water and run across it together, ending with a dive. This “rushing ceremony” typically signifies that two individuals will soon be breeding together.
Which of these BLACK and WHITE birds have you seen before in Iowa?
Leave a COMMENT below. Make sure you tell us WHERE you saw the bird. 🙂