12 IRIDESCENT Birds found in Iowa! (2024)

Did you see a bird in Iowa that seemed to shine?

Types of iridescent birds in Iowa

If so, you were lucky enough to observe a bird with iridescent plumage. These beautiful feathers appear shiny or glossy, especially when viewed in sunlight.

Below, you will find a list of birds with iridescent feathers. To help you make an identification, I have included several photographs of each species and detailed range maps.

12 Iridescent BIRDS in Iowa:

#1. European Starling

  • Sturnus vulgaris

Types of iridescent birds in Iowa

European Starlings are a common iridescent bird in Iowa!

Their breeding plumage in the summer appears shiny, especially when viewed in the sun. Look for a green-purple tint.

In winter, starlings lose their glossiness, their beaks become darker, and they develop white spots over their bodies.

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

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.

It’s common to see starlings at my backyard bird feeders. Press PLAY below to see a LIVE stream of my feeding station:

YouTube video

#2. Common Grackle

  • Quiscalus quiscula

Types of iridescent birds in Iowa

Common Grackles are one of the most shiny birds in Iowa.

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.

Their favorite foods are grains, such as corn and rice, and they are known to gather in enormous flocks in farm fields that grow these crops. In addition, they also eat a wide variety of seeds, acorns, fruits, insects, spiders, frogs, fish, mice, other birds, and even garbage!

Common Grackle Range Map

common grackle range map
These large, aggressive birds can become a nuisance when they arrive in large flocks as they scare away smaller songbirds. Unfortunately, due to their athletic ability and willingness to eat most foods, they are one of the harder creatures to prevent at backyard feeding stations.

#3. Rock Pigeon

  • Columba livia

Types of iridescent birds in Iowa

Rock Pigeons are extremely common in Iowa but are almost exclusively found in urban areas. These shiny birds are what everyone refers to as “pigeons.” You have probably seen them gathering in huge flocks in city parks, hoping to get tossed some birdseed or leftover food.

The typical pigeon has a gray back, a blue-grey head, and two black wing bars. In addition, look for a green and purple iridescence around their necks!

Rock Pigeon Range Map

pigeon range map

Love them or hate them, Rock Pigeons have been associated with humans for a long time! Some Egyptian hieroglyphics suggest that people started domesticating them over 5,000 years ago. But, interestingly, scientists aren’t even sure where their original range occurs!

#4. Tree Swallow

  • Tachycineta bicolor

tree swallow pic

Male Tree Swallows have a beautiful greenish-blue iridescence, which is especially striking in the sun. Females are not as bright or shiny in color and are much more brownish.

You will typically find these iridescent birds in Iowa near bodies of water, where they can find tons of insects to feed on. This species will even bathe by flying over the water, skimming their bodies on the surface, and shaking off the droplets.

Tree Swallow Range Map

tree swallow range map

Tree Swallows prefer to eat insects. After the breeding season, they gather in large groups, up to hundreds of thousands, to migrate.

#5. Mallard

  • Anas platyrhynchos

iridescent water birds

My guess is that almost everyone is familiar with the Mallard. These ducks are the most common iridescent water birds in Iowa!

Males have a bright green head that shines brightly in the sunlight. Females are mottled brown with orange and brown bills. Both sexes have shiny purple-blue secondary feathers on their wing, most visible when standing or flying.

Mallard Range Map

mallard duck range map

Mallards are extremely comfortable around people, which is why these adaptable ducks are so widespread. They are found in virtually any wetland habitat, regardless of location. We even find these water birds in our swimming pool every summer and must chase them away so they don’t make a mess on our deck! 🙂

#6. Brown-headed Cowbird

  • Molothrus ater

Types of iridescent birds

In Iowa, these glossy birds are naturally found in grasslands, brushy thickets, prairies, and woodland edges. However, they have greatly expanded their range due to human development. They have adapted well to residential areas, pastures, orchards, and cemeteries.

Males have completely black bodies with brown heads (hence the name). In poor light, it can be hard to tell that the head is brown. But in good light, their black plumage is shiny and slightly iridescent.

Females, on the other hand, are a plain brown color.

Brown-headed Cowbird Range Map

brown headed cowbird range map

Brown-headed Cowbirds are considered “brood parasites.”

Cowbirds have a truly interesting way of reproducing. Instead of spending energy building nests and raising their young, they let other birds do it for them! Females deposit their eggs INSIDE the nests of other species, which means the “chosen” bird does all the hard work.
Can you spot the cowbird egg?
Types of black birds in Virginia

#7. Northern Shoveler

  • Spatula clypeata

If you only glance at their shiny green heads, casual observers in Iowa might accidentally think these ducks are Mallards. But upon closer review, you should notice the ENORMOUS spoon-shaped bill, which is how Northern Shovelers got their name.

Males have iridescent green heads, a white chest, black backs, and yellow eyes. Females are brown, and sometimes, you can see a bluish shoulder patch.

Northern Shoveler Range Map

northern shoveler range map

They use their large bill to shovel and sift through mud and sand to find tasty tidbits like crustaceans, mollusks, and aquatic insects. Interestingly, their bill has over 100 tiny projections on the edges called lamellae that help filter out the food they want to eat.

#8. Wood Duck

  • Aix sponsa

Walt Disney used to say that “the world is a carousel of color,” and few waterfowl have taken this more to heart than the male Wood Duck. It looks like an artist used every color to paint a duck with green, red, orange, lime, yellow, buff, rose, brown, tan, black, white, gray, purple, and blue coloring.

Males have very intricate plumage that is iridescent when viewed in the sun. Look for the green crested head, red eyes, and chestnut breast with white flecks.

Wood Duck Range Map

wood duck range map

This is one of the few ducks you may see in a tree! Wood Ducks use abandoned tree cavities for nesting but also readily take to elevated nesting boxes.

When hatchlings leave the nest for the first time, they often have to make a giant leap of faith (up to 50 feet / 15m) to the ground below! You have to watch the video below to believe it. 🙂

YouTube video

#9. Brewer’s Blackbird

  • Euphagus cyanocephalus

iridescent birds

Males are completely glossy black with bright yellow eyes. If you see these shiny birds in the sun in Iowa, you may see hints of iridescent blue, purple, and metallic green reflecting off their plumage.

Females are plain brown with pale or brown eyes.

Look for Brewer’s Blackbirds 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

brewers 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 them in mixed flocks that also include cowbirds, starlings, grackles, and Red-winged Blackbirds.

#10. Ruby-throated Hummingbird

  • Archilochus colubris

ruby throated hummingbird

Males are easy to identify because they have a bright red throat. In addition, they have iridescent green plumage on their heads and backs.

Females are duller than males. Their face lacks the black chin and red throat of the male.

These small iridescent birds are common in Iowa during warm summer months.

Once cooler temperatures start to arrive, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds migrate to Mexico. Amazingly, most individuals travel ACROSS the Gulf of Mexico to reach their wintering grounds. Remember, they must make this incredibly long journey in a single flight, as there is nowhere to stop and rest. 🙂

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Range Map

ruby throated hummingbird range map

Believe it or not, these hummingbirds make distinctive noises. The sounds I hear most often are a series of calls that seem to be given as individuals chase each other around. It resembles a chattering “chee-dit.” Press PLAY below to hear what they sound like!

YouTube video

#11. Purple Martin

  • Progne subis

Types of iridescent birds

Purple Martins are incredible flyers! These swallows perform impressive aerial acrobatics when chasing their favorite prey, flying insects. Look for them mostly in open areas around water.

Adult males are dark and iridescent. Their shiny plumage appears blue and purple in the sun. Females are duller, with gray plumage on their heads and chests.

One interesting thing about Purple Martins is they breed in colonies in artificial nest boxes. In fact, throughout most of eastern North America, they rely solely on artificial cavities. But out west, Purple Martins still primarily use woodpecker holes for nesting. Interestingly, even before European settlers arrived, Native Americans used to hang up empty gourds for them!

Purple Martin Range Map

These iridescent birds are only in Iowa during the breeding season. Then, towards the end of summer, Purple Martins gather and roost together in HUGE numbers as they prepare to migrate back to South America. The flocks are so big they show up on the weather radar! Press PLAY below to a video I made that shows thousands of Purple Martins preparing to migrate together.

YouTube video

#12. Great-tailed Grackle

  • Quiscalus mexicanus

Great-tailed Grackles are shiny, brash birds found in Iowa, often in large flocks. It’s common to see them living near people at parks, farms, landfills, or neighborhood backyards. Naturally, they live in open forests, marshes, and scrub.

Males are completely black, but they have beautiful blue iridescent feathers when viewed in the right light. Look for their bright yellow eyes and long V-shaped tails.

Females are about half the size of males. Their upper parts are dark brown, while they feature paler brown plumage below.

Great-tailed Grackle Range Map

Their range has spread over the past century because of their fondness for agricultural and urban areas. In fact, they are one of the fastest-expanding species in the United States!

Learn more about other birds in Iowa!

Which of these iridescent birds have you seen before in Iowa?

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!

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