Did you see a BLACK bird in Yukon?
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.
8 BIRDS THAT ARE BLACK IN Yukon:
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 Yukon 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 Yukon, 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 Yukon!
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 Yukon, 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 Yukon!
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.
#16. Brewer’s Blackbird
- Euphagus cyanocephalus
- Males are completely glossy black with bright yellow eyes. If they are in the sun, you may see hints of blue, purple, and metallic green reflecting off their plumage.
- Females are plain brown with pale or brown eyes. They are dark brown on the wings and tail. They DO NOT have streaking, which differentiates them from female Red-winged Blackbirds.
Look for Brewer’s Blackbirds in Yukon in a variety of habitats, such as marshes, forests, meadows, and grasslands. These birds also adapt incredibly well to the presence of humans and are common in backyards, golf courses, parks, and agricultural areas.
Brewer’s Blackbird Range Map
After the breeding season, huge flocks come together to travel and search for food in grasslands and farm fields. It’s common to see mixed flocks that also include cowbirds, starlings, grackles, and Red-winged Blackbirds.
Listen for a metallic, creaky “ke-see” song, which lasts a bit less than a second. Brewer’s Blackbirds are vocal, and there are a few contact (“tschup“) and alarm (“chuck“) calls you may hear that they use to communicate with each other.
#7. 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 Yukon!
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.
#8. 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 Yukon, 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.
Learn more about other birds in Yukon!
Which of these blackbirds have you seen before in Yukon?
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!