Did you see a bird in North America that seemed to shine?
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.
25 Iridescent BIRDS in North America:
#1. European Starling
- Sturnus vulgaris
European Starlings are a common iridescent bird in North America!
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
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:
#2. Common Grackle
- Quiscalus quiscula
Common Grackles are one of the most shiny birds in North America.
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 Grackle Range Map
#3. Rock Pigeon
- Columba livia
Rock Pigeons are extremely common in North America 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
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
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 North America 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 Swallows prefer to eat insects. After the breeding season, they gather in large groups, up to hundreds of thousands, to migrate.
- Anas platyrhynchos
My guess is that almost everyone is familiar with the Mallard. These ducks are the most common iridescent water birds in North America!
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
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
In North America, 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 Cowbirds are considered “brood parasites.”
#7. Northern Shoveler
- Spatula clypeata
If you only glance at their shiny green heads, casual observers in North America 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
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
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. 🙂
#9. Brewer’s Blackbird
- Euphagus cyanocephalus
Males are completely glossy black with bright yellow eyes. If you see these shiny birds in the sun in North America, 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
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
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 North America 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
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!
#11. Purple Martin
- Progne subis
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 North America 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.
#12. Black-chinned Hummingbird
- Archilochus alexandri
These small iridescent birds breed in North America during the summer months.
Males have a metallic green body, white breasts, and greenish flanks. Their head appears black overall, but their crown is actually very dark green, and their lower throat is iridescent violet.
Females have a greenish-grey cap on their heads and a greenback. There is a white spot behind their eyes, similar to the males. They lack the shiny purple throat.
Black-chinned Hummingbird Range Map
I will never forget the first time I saw this hummingbird species. While on a camping trip in Zion National Park, I was taking an early morning walk when a male Black-chinned Hummingbird started feeding on the wildflowers in front of me! I still remember the purple, vibrant throat shining in the early morning sun. 🙂
#13. Calliope Hummingbird
- Selasphorus calliope
Male Calliope Hummingbird’s are easy to identify because of their iridescent magenta throat feathers that appear as streaks going down their necks.
Instead of shiny throat feathers, females have small dark spots on their white throats. Their head and back are covered in a metallic green with a white, buffy breast.
Calliope Hummingbird Range Map
The Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest iridescent bird in North America!
It’s under 4 inches (10 cm) in length and weighs between 2 and 3 grams (0.071 to 0.106 oz), which is about the same weight as a ping-pong ball!
#14. White-faced Ibis
- Plegadis chihi
- Maroon water birds with a long curved bill. Wings appear metallic green and bronze in the right light.
- At the base of the bill, breeding adults have a bare patch of pink skin surrounded by a white border.
- Non-breeding adults lack the skin patch and white border on the face. Greenish-black legs.
At first glance, White-faced Ibises appear black. But upon closer inspection, you will see a beautiful mixture of green, bronze, and purple iridescent plumage.
These glossy birds are found in marshes across North America, where they can be found digging their long bill into mud, looking for earthworms, insects, and crayfish.
White-faced Ibis Range Map
These birds sometimes use human-made objects in their nests. Everything from lighters to dolls to shotgun shells has been found!
#15. Great-tailed Grackle
- Quiscalus mexicanus
Great-tailed Grackles are shiny, brash birds found in North America, 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.
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!
#16. Broad-tailed Hummingbird
- Selasphorus platycercus
Males have white breasts, buffy flanks, and metallic shiny green covering their head, back, and tail. Look for their iridescent red throat.
Females have a lightly speckled throat, white upper breast, and a brownish belly. The head and back are metallic green.
These small iridescent birds only stay in North America for a few months, from late May to early August.
Broad-tailed Hummingbird Range Map
Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are found in mountain meadows and open woodlands. They typically breed at elevations between 5,000 and 10,500 feet. After the breeding season is over, they migrate back to Central America.
These green birds live up to 10,500 feet high in the mountains, where temperatures regularly drop below freezing, even in summer. To survive these cold nights, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds enter a state of torpor, where they slow their heart rate down and drop their body temperature until the sun comes up!
#17. Violet-green Swallow
- Tachycineta thalassina
At first glance, these swallows appear dark. But once the sun hits their feathers, you can truly appreciate their beauty as their metallic green backs and iridescent purple behinds become visible.
Your best chance at seeing these iridescent birds in North America is over open water.
Violet-green Swallow Range Map
Violet-green Swallows will fly over lakes, ponds, or rivers in the early mornings, hunting for insects. Since they tend to flock with other species of swifts and swallows, look for the birds with a white belly and cheeks.
Violet-green Swallows spend winters in Mexico and Central America. They are only in North America during the breeding season.
#18. Rufous Hummingbird
- Selasphorus rufus
Males have a bright copper-orange coloring on their back (although some males have a green back) and the sides of their belly. But their most striking feature is their beautiful reddish-orange iridescent throat.
Although not as vivid as the males, many females have a spot of shiny red or orange plumage on their throats.
Rufous Hummingbird Range Map
Rufous Hummingbirds build their nests with soft plants held together with spider webs. Like other hummingbird species, females prefer lichen, bark, and moss as camouflage.
Rufous Hummingbirds are incredibly aggressive! Be careful if one finds your hummingbird feeders or garden, as they will relentlessly attack and drive away other hummingbirds (including much larger species).
#19. Black-billed Magpie
- Pica hudsonia
It’s hard to miss these shiny birds in North America!
Black-billed Magpies demand your attention. They are very social, noisy, and comfortable living amongst people and are commonly seen in smaller towns. Naturally, they live in open grasslands and plains and tend to avoid dense forests.
And in the right light, you can see beautiful blue iridescent feathers on the wings and tail.
Black-billed Magpie Range Map
Being part of the Corvid family, Black-billed Magpies are incredibly intelligent. One interesting behavior is that they seem to have funerals when discovering a deceased magpie. Individual birds will begin calling loudly to attract more magpies, eventually having as many as 40 birds gathered for 10-15 minutes before flying away silently.
#20. Purple Gallinule
- Porphyrio martinica
Purple Gallinules are one of the brightest-colored birds in North America!
Both sexes have iridescent feathers of deep blue and green covering their body. Their long yellow legs provide a stark contrast to their shiny plumage.
The best place to find Purple Gallinules is in marshes near freshwater.
Purple Gallinule Range Map
They forage like a chicken, walking slowly while pecking at vegetation in the water.
These iridescent birds are fantastic swimmers and good climbers because of their long toes.
#21. Boat-tailed Grackle
- Quiscalus major
It’s easy to identify these iridescent birds in North America!
The easiest place to see them is around people, as Boat-tailed Grackles are not shy!
As the name suggests, adults have a long, V-shaped tail, which resembles the keel of a boat.
Males are glossy black all over and appear shiny in the sun. Females look completely different, as they are smaller with a pale brown breast and dark brown upperparts.
Boat-tailed Grackle Range Map
They readily take advantage of humans for food and protection from predators. For example, when our family visits Disney World, I see them in large numbers, hanging out around busy food areas, looking to scavenge leftover popcorn, pretzels, and french fries.
#22. Anna’s Hummingbird
- Calypte anna
These tiny iridescent birds are no larger than a ping-pong ball and weigh about the same as a nickel.
Males are best known in North America for their iridescent pinkish-red heads. The tail and back are dark and shiny green. Most of the time, a broken white eye-ring is visible.
Females are duller than the males, with a green cap and body. Many individuals have a patch of metallic purple or red on their throats.
Anna’s Hummingbirds are different from most hummers since they don’t migrate much, if at all. These hummingbirds are year-round residents from southern British Columbia to northern Mexico. They have varied habitats, including deserts, mountains, woodlands, gardens, and chaparral.
Anna’s Hummingbird Range Map
#23. Bronzed Cowbird
- Molothrus aeneus
Males are brownish-black overall with a blue sheen on their iridescent wings and tail. The eyes are bright red during the breeding season and change to shades of brown the rest of the year.
Females are not shiny at all. They are grayish-brown with faint streaks.
Look for these shiny birds in North America in open areas, such as farms, golf courses, lawns, fields, and scrubby grasslands.
Bronzed Cowbird Range Map
Like all cowbirds, these birds lay their eggs in the nests of other species. In fact, over 100 types of birds have been reported as hosting eggs from Bronzed Cowbirds.
Orioles are especially susceptible to being parasitized by Bronzed Cowbirds. It’s so frequent that the singing of Hooded Orioles will attract Bronzed Cowbirds during spring!
#24. Costa’s Hummingbird
- Calypte costae
Males have a large, iridescent purple gorget that makes them easy to identify. It covers their head, flaring out along the sides of their neck like an overgrown mustache.
Females lack the bright purple plumage. They have a white throat, along with a shiny green head and back. Look for white tips on the tail feathers.
Costa’s Hummingbird Range Map
These iridescent birds have a limited range in North America. Costa’s Hummingbirds are found in habitats such as desert scrub, chaparral, sage scrub, and even in deciduous forests in their Mexico wintering grounds.
#25. Allen’s Hummingbird
- Selasphorus sasin
Males have a copper-colored side, belly, rump, and tail. Look for a deep reddish-orange throat that features beautiful iridescent feathers.
Females look similar to males, except they are a bit duller in color. But look closely, and you will still see a small patch of shiny feathers on their throat.
Both sexes have a green crown and back that glitters in the sun!
Allen’s Hummingbird Range Map
Due to their habitat preferences, Allen’s Hummingbirds have a very limited breeding range. These birds only use a narrow strip of coastal shrub and scrub habitat along the Pacific Coast for mating and raising young.
Male and female Allen’s Hummingbirds use different types of habitat during the breeding season. The male sets up his territory in open areas of chaparral or coastal scrub. The female visits these areas, but after mating, she heads into the forest or thickets to raise her young.
Learn more about other birds in North America!
Which of these iridescent birds have you seen before in North America?
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!