3 Types of Blackbirds Found in Alaska! (ID Guide)
What kinds of blackbirds can you find in Alaska?
Blackbirds are incredibly abundant in Alaska. But while they are common, some of these species get a bad reputation because of their aggressive personalities and tendency to “bully” smaller songbirds at bird feeders (cough… European Starlings… cough).
The term “blackbird” is a bit wide-ranging. For the sake of this article, I only included species in the Icteridae family (except for #2), which consists of all New World Blackbirds, grackles, cowbirds, and even orioles! I think you will find that the more you learn about the below birds, the more you can appreciate them and their natural behavior.
Below you will learn about 3 types of blackbirds in Alaska!
If you’re lucky, you may be able to see blackbirds at my bird feeding station right now! I have a LIVE high-definition camera watching my feeders 24/7. 🙂
#1. Red-winged Blackbird
- Agelaius phoeniceus
- Males are all black, except for a bright red and yellow patch on their shoulders.
- Females are brown and heavily streaked. There is a bit of yellow around their bill.
- Both sexes have a conical bill and are commonly seen sitting on cattails or perched high in a tree overlooking their territory.
Red-winged Blackbird Range Map
During the breeding season, these blackbirds are almost exclusively found in marshes and other wet areas. Females build nests in between dense grass-like vegetation, such as cattails, sedges, and bulrushes. Males aggressively defend the nest against intruders, and I have even been attacked by Red-winged Blackbirds while walking near the swamp in my backyard!
- RELATED: 10 LIVE Bird Feeder Cams From Around the World [Including MINE!]
When it’s the nonbreeding season, Red-winged Blackbirds spend much of their time in grasslands, farm fields, and pastures looking for weedy seeds to eat. It’s common for them to be found in large flocks that feature various other blackbird species, such as grackles, cowbirds, and starlings.
It’s possible to see these blackbirds in Alaska at your feeders!
WATCH a male and female Red-winged Blackbird on my feeders above!
To attract them, try offering a combination of grains, such as millet and cracked corn, along with sunflower seeds.
Red-winged Blackbirds are easy to identify by their sounds!
Listen to their common songs and calls by pressing PLAY above!
If you visit a wetland or marsh in spring, you are almost guaranteed to hear males singing and displaying, trying to attract a mate. Listen for a rich, musical song, which lasts about one second and sounds like “conk-la-ree!”
And at any time of year, you can hear males or females make a “check” call. This sound is used for many purposes, such as when flying, feeding, or defending their territory.
#2. European Starling
- Sturnus vulgaris – This is the only species on this list that isn’t in the Icteridae family.
- A common blackbird in Alaska, they are about the size of an American Robin. Their plumage is black and appears to be shiny.
- Short tail with a long slender beak.
- Breeding adults are darker black and have a green-purple tint. In winter, starlings lose their glossiness, their beaks become darker, and they develop white spots over their bodies.
European Starlings are incredibly common in Alaska!
European Starling Range Map
But, did you know these birds are an invasive species and aren’t even supposed to be here?
Back in 1890, one hundred starlings were brought over from Europe and released in New York City’s Central Park. The man responsible (Eugene Schieffelin) had a mission to introduce all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays in North America.
The rest is history as starlings easily conquered the continent, along the way out-competing many of our beautiful native birds. Their ability to adapt to human development and eat almost anything is uncanny to almost no other species.
When starlings visit in small numbers, they are fun to watch and have beautiful plumage. Unfortunately, these aggressive birds can ruin a party quickly when they visit in massive flocks, chasing away all of the other birds while eating your expensive bird food. To keep these blackbirds away from your bird feeders, you will need to take extreme action and implement some proven strategies.
Starlings are impressive vocalists!
Press PLAY above to hear their common songs and calls!
Listen for a mix of musical, squeaky, rasping notes. These blackbirds are also known to imitate other birds.
Here’s something amazing about European Starlings:
It’s the magical way they travel in flocks, called murmurations.
See the video above to watch an incredible display!
#3. Rusty Blackbird
- Euphagus carolinus
- Medium-sized blackbirds with slightly curved, slender bills.
- Breeding males are entirely glossy black. Non-breeding males are a duller black but with rusty-brown edging on their plumage.
- Females appear rusty colored or brown. Look for a pale eyebrow that contrasts against the black feathers around their eye.
Rusty Blackbirds pose a concerning mystery to scientists.
In Alaska, they have declined dramatically over the past 40 years, and no one knows why!
Rusty Blackbird Range Map
The problem with studying these blackbirds is that they breed in Canada’s far northern boreal forests, where not many people are around to observe their behavior.
Their preferred habitats are wet forests, marshes, pond edges, and swamps. Many of these areas have been drained and converted to agricultural uses, which may play a part in the loss of Rusty Blackbirds.
It’s also thought that the severe hunting of beavers over the past century has eliminated many smaller ponds, which is also another natural home used by these blackbirds.
If you are lucky enough to be around a Rusty Blackbird, listen for a creaky song (“koo-a-lee-eek“) that is a few notes long.
Do you need additional help identifying blackbirds?
Here are a few books and resources you can purchase that will assist!
National Geographic Guide to the Birds of North America
The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America
Which of these blackbirds have you seen before in Alaska?
Leave a comment below!
The range maps above were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!
To learn more about other birds near you, check out these guides!