18 IRIDESCENT Birds found in Utah! (2024)

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

Types of iridescent birds in Utah

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.

18 Iridescent BIRDS in Utah:

#1. European Starling

  • Sturnus vulgaris

Types of iridescent birds in Utah

European Starlings are a common iridescent bird in Utah!

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. Rock Pigeon

  • Columba livia

Types of iridescent birds in Utah

Rock Pigeons are extremely common in Utah 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!

#3. Tree Swallow

  • Tachycineta bicolor

Types of iridescent birds in Utah

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 Utah 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.

#4. 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 Utah!

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! 🙂

#5. Brown-headed Cowbird

  • Molothrus ater

Types of iridescent birds

In Utah, 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

#6. Northern Shoveler

  • Spatula clypeata

If you only glance at their shiny green heads, casual observers in Utah 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.

#7. 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

#8. 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 Utah, 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.

#9. 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 Utah 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

#10. Black-chinned Hummingbird

  • Archilochus alexandri

These small iridescent birds breed in Utah 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

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. 🙂

#11. Calliope Hummingbird

  • Selasphorus calliope

calliope hummingbird

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

calliope hummingbird range map

The Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest iridescent bird in Utah!

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!

#12. White-faced Ibis

  • Plegadis chihi

white-faced ibis

  • 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 Utah, where they can be found digging their long bill into mud, looking for earthworms, insects, and crayfish.

White-faced Ibis Range Map

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!

#13. Great-tailed Grackle

  • Quiscalus mexicanus

Great-tailed Grackles are shiny, brash birds found in Utah, 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!

#14. Broad-tailed Hummingbird

  • Selasphorus platycercus

broad tailed hummingbirds

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 Utah 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!

#15. 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 Utah is over open water.

Violet-green Swallow Range Map

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.

#16. Rufous Hummingbird

  • Selasphorus rufus

rufous hummingbird - types of iridescent birds

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 hummingbird

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).

#17. Black-billed Magpie

  • Pica hudsonia

iridescent birds

It’s hard to miss these shiny birds in Utah!

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.

#18. Costa’s Hummingbird

  • Calypte costae

costa's hummingbird

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

costa's hummingbird range map

These iridescent birds have a limited range in Utah. Costa’s Hummingbirds are found in habitats such as desert scrub, chaparral, sage scrub, and even in deciduous forests in their Mexico wintering grounds.

Learn more about other birds in Utah!

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

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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