Did you see a BLACK bird in Vermont?
I’m guessing you need help figuring out which species you saw with black feathers. Well, you’ve come to the right place! To help you make an identification, I have included several photographs of each species and detailed range maps.
13 BIRDS THAT ARE BLACK IN Vermont:
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.
During the breeding season, these blackbirds are almost exclusively found in Vermont in marshes and other wet areas. Females build nests 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!
Red-winged Blackbird Range Map
During the non-breeding 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.
Red-winged Blackbirds are easy to identify by their sounds! If you visit a wetland or marsh in the spring, you are almost guaranteed to hear males singing and displaying, trying to attract a mate. Listen for a rich, musical song that lasts about one second and sounds like “conk-la-ree!”
#2. European Starling
- Sturnus vulgaris
- A common blackbird in Vermont, they are about the size of an American Robin. Their plumage is black and appears to be shiny.
- 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 Vermont!
But did you know these birds are an invasive species? 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.
European Starling Range Map
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 virtually no other species.
Here’s something amazing about these blackbirds:
It’s the magical way they travel in flocks, called murmurations. Check out the video below because it’s mesmerizing. 🙂
#3. Brown-headed Cowbird
- Molothrus ater
- Look for a stocky, chunky blackbird with a thick, conical bill.
- Males have completely black bodies with a brown head (hence the name). In poor light, it can be hard to tell that the head is actually brown.
- Females are a plain brown color. There is slight streaking on the belly and a black eye.
In Vermont, these blackbirds are naturally found in grasslands, brushy thickets, prairies, and woodland edges. However, they have greatly expanded their range due to human development, and they have adapted well to residential areas, pastures, orchards, and cemeteries.
Brown-headed Cowbird Range Map
Brown-headed Cowbirds are considered “brood parasites.”
Lastly, here is a question for you to ponder: How does a Brown-headed Cowbird know it’s one? It’s interesting to think about since they aren’t raised by their own species. But after they leave the nest, they never spend time again with whatever type of bird their host mother was!
#4. Downy Woodpecker
- Dryobates pubescens
These white and black woodpeckers are common in Vermont!
You probably recognize them, as they are seen in many yards visiting bird feeders.
Downy Woodpecker Range Map
This woodpecker species is easy to attract. 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, use a specialized suet bird feeder.
Once you know what to listen for, my guess is that you will start hearing Downy Woodpeckers everywhere you go. Their calls resemble a high-pitched whinnying sound that descends in pitch towards the end.
Press PLAY above to hear a Downy Woodpecker!
#5. Dark-eyed Junco
- Junco hyemalis
Dark-eyed Juncos are one of the most common birds in North America. You can easily identify them by their smooth greyish-black feathers. Or look for a white flash from their tail feathers as they fly away.
Dark-eyed Junco Range Map
This species is found in pine and mixed-coniferous forests when they breed, but in winter, they are seen in fields, parks, woodlands, and backyards.
Dark-eyed Juncos have earned the nickname “Snowbirds” or “Winter birds” because they only appear in winter in many parts of their range.
Males sing a two-second loud, trilling song that can carry hundreds of feet away. In addition, both sexes also sing softer songs that are a mixture of warbles, trills, and whistles.
#6. Turkey Vulture
- Cathartes aura
The Turkey Vulture is a large black bird that is incredibly common in Vermont. In fact, it is the most abundant vulture in the entire country.
They are relatively easy to identify, as they are all black, with a bald red head and a pinkish bill. The name derives from their loose resemblance to a Wild Turkey.
Turkey Vultures use their highly developed sense of smell to locate carrion. Their sense of smell is so sensitive that they can detect dead meat from 8 miles (13 km) away. These birds actually prefer to eat fresh food, and they try to get to animals as quickly as possible after their death.
Turkey Vulture Range Map
These birds are dark, and they absorb heat easily. To cool themselves off, they defecate on their legs to cool the blood and help them moderate their body temperature. Let’s collectively say “Ewww” and move on!
When these raptors are frightened, they can be so full of meat that they cannot rapidly fly away. In this case, you may see them projectile vomit what they’ve eaten to lose weight and escape. If they target the predator’s face, the material can be blinding.
#7. American Crow
- Corvus brachyrhynchos
- A large bird that is entirely black with an iridescent sheen.
- Long black bill, black legs, and black feet.
American Crows are adaptable birds that can be found in almost every habitat. The places they inhabit include woodlands, fields, rivers, marshes, farms, parks, landfills, golf courses, cemeteries, and neighborhoods.
American Crow Range Map
These completely BLACK birds are one of the smartest birds in Vermont.
For example, they can use tools, solve problems, and recognize human faces. It seems that crows even do things just for fun! Seriously, if you search the internet, it’s easy to find videos of them using round objects to sled down roofs.
American Crows have a large vocabulary. Listen for any number of caws, rattles, cackles, and clicks. The most common sound is a “caw-caw.” (Listen below)
#8. Double-crested Cormorant
- Nannopterum auritum
Double-crested Cormorants look incredibly unique, with many people thinking they appear to be a cross between a loon and a goose. These expert divers eat almost exclusively fish, which they catch underwater with their perfectly adapted hooked bills.
Double-crested Cormorant Range Map
One of the BEST ways to find these large black birds in Vermont is to look for them on land with their wings spread out. Double-crested Cormorants don’t have waterproof feathers, so after swimming, they have to dry them.
Large colonies of these birds gather in trees near water, where they all build their nests in a small cluster of trees. Unfortunately, there can be so many birds so close together that their poop ends up killing the trees!
Double-crested Cormorants emit unique, deep guttural grunts, which I think sound more like a large walrus than a bird. Listen below!
#9. Common Grackle
- Quiscalus quiscula
- Lanky, large blackbirds that have a long tail and long bill that curves slightly downward. Loud birds that gather in big flocks high in trees.
- Males are black overall but have an iridescent blue head and bronze body when seen in the right light.
- Females look similar, except they are slightly less glossy than males.
Common Grackles are one of the most resourceful black birds you will find in Vermont.
Common Grackle Range Map
Watch my feeding station get taken over by Common Grackles!
#10. Common Raven
- Corvus corax
- Large bird that is completely black, including its eyes and bill.
- The bill is hefty and thick.
- In flight, look for their wedge-shaped tail.
Ravens are one of the SMARTEST birds in Vermont!
For example, one study has shown that they are drawn to gunshots during hunting season to investigate the carcass but ignore other loud noises that don’t lead to food, such as air horns or car alarms.
Common Raven Range Map
Since they are so smart and adaptable, Common Ravens are found in many habitats. Look for them living near the edges of towns, especially in landfills that supply an endless amount of food. But ravens also have no problem living far away from civilization.
Common Ravens are impressive vocalists who make many different types of calls, from harsh grating calls to shrill alarm sounds. But the most common sound in the wild is a gurgling croak that rises in pitch.
Interestingly, they can mimic the sounds of many other bird species and even humans if raised in captivity.
#11. 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 Vermont, they have declined dramatically (~85%) over the past 40 years, and no one knows why! 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.
Rusty Blackbird Range Map
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 contribute to 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 are also another natural home used by these blackbirds.
#12. Pileated Woodpecker
- Dryocopus pileatus
There are not many birds that will make you stop what you’re doing quite like a Pileated Woodpecker. These birds are HUGE, and adults can be up to 19 inches (48 cm) long and have a wingspan of 30 inches (76 cm)! For reference, this is about the size of a crow.
In addition to their large size, these birds are mostly black but with white stripes on their face and neck. Look for a large triangle-shaped red crest on the top of their heads. Males have a red stripe on their cheek, whereas the stripe is black on females.
Pileated Woodpecker Range Map
Pileated Woodpeckers are common in large, mature forests with lots of dead and fallen trees. They rely on rotting wood consisting of ants, wood-boring beetles, and termites to find food. Additionally, they will supplement their diet with fruits and nuts.
Incredibly, Pileated Woodpeckers will visit bird feeders! Yes, it’s possible to attract these stunning birds to your backyard. They are most often seen dining on suet. The below video was taken from my bird feeding station.
#13. Baltimore Oriole
- Icterus galbula
I don’t think there is a more beautiful black bird in Vermont!
Male Baltimore Orioles are an unmistakable, stunning combination of orange and black with white wing bars. However, females are beautiful in their own way, featuring duller colors than the males while lacking a black hood and back.
Baltimore Oriole Range Map
And luckily, these birds are relatively easy to attract to bird feeders as long as you use the foods they enjoy eating.
Try using one of the strategies below to attract orioles:
- Ripe fruit, such as bananas, cherries, grapes, or berries. Orioles are attracted to the color orange, so putting out orange slices works best in my backyard.
- Grape jelly, placed in a cup, is a treat that orioles find hard to resist. You may also see catbirds and woodpeckers sampling the jelly.
- Similar to hummingbirds, Baltimore Orioles love drinking nectar from flowers. You can take advantage by setting out oriole-friendly nectar feeders at your bird feeding station.
Learn more about other birds in Vermont!
Which of these blackbirds have you seen before in Vermont?
Leave a comment below!
The range maps below 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!