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11 Large Black Birds in South Carolina

large black birds in south carolina
Black Vulture in Colleton, South Carolina: Photo by Christopher Gilbert

Introduction

With formidable hooked bills and wingspans sometimes reaching over five feet, South Carolina serves as an essential wintering ground and breeding site for many oversized jet black avian species. Coastlines, swamps, and rural areas attract these giant yet graceful birds that add an element of wilderness to the landscape. Read on to learn about some of the most impressive large black birds in South Carolina.

Large Black Birds in South Carolina

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata

  • Features: The surf scoter is a stocky seaduck with a very bulky body profile. The adult male is entirely black except for white patches visible on the forehead and nape. The female has a subtly brown and white patterned plumage. Both sexes have a large multi-colored bill. 
  • Locations: In South Carolina, surf scoters winter in large rafts on coastal bays, inlets and lakes. The species breeds in northern North America. 
  • Fun Fact: Massive “scoter rafts” numbering over 100,000 birds form along the South Carolina coast as surf scoters gather in prime areas during winter.

White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi)

  • Features: The white-winged scoter is a bulky diving duck with adult males that are solid black except for prominent white patches on the wings. Females are brownish overall with a faint white speculum. Both sexes have a stocky two-toned bill.
  • Locations: In South Carolina, white-winged scoters can be found on coastal marine habitats during the migration and winter periods. They are seen offshore and in bays and inlets. 
  • Fun Fact: The male’s rather odd frog-like croaking call is made as part of courtship displays to females. The species forms large flocks that winter together along the coast.

Black Scoter (Melanitta americana

  • Features: The black scoter is a bulky seaduck with black males and brownish females. Their bill is very large and ridged with yellow ornamentation. They float low in the water when feeding or resting.
  • Locations: In South Carolina, black scoters occur on coastal waters during the migration period and winter months. They breed in northern Canada and Alaska. 
  • Fun Fact: Black scoters nest in synchronous colonies, with females in an area all laying eggs together in a shared protected location. Males do not participate in rearing the young. 

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

  • Features: The wild turkey is a very large ground bird with metallic blackish feathers that have brown barring. The bare head and neck vary in color with mood and health. Males also have leg spurs and beard-like breast feathers.  
  • Locations: Wild turkeys are found in forests, fields, and open areas across South Carolina. Populations recovered after reintroduction due to overhunting.
  • Fun Fact: Male wild turkeys engage in elaborate strutting displays during courtship, spreading their tail feathers, puffing out plumage, and emitting gobbles. 

Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)

  • Features: The anhinga is a waterbird with a very long, sharp dagger-like bill used for spearing fish underwater. It has blackish plumage on the head, neck, back and wings. The tail has white banding visible in flight. 
  • Locations: Anhingas occur year-round on lakes, ponds, rivers, swamps, and coastal waters across South Carolina.
  • Fun Fact: After swimming and diving to catch fish, anhingas will perch with their wings spread open to dry and straighten their waterlogged feathers before taking flight again.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

  • Features: The double-crested cormorant is an all-black waterbird with a small yellow patch on the throat. It has turquoise eye rings and thin feather tufts on the head during breeding. The large hooked bill is used for catching fish.
  • Locations: This cormorant is found year-round on coastal areas, lakes, swamps, and rivers across South Carolina. It nests colonially on secluded islands and cliffs. 
  • Fun Fact: After diving and swimming to catch fish, double-crested cormorants often stand on docks, branches or other surfaces with their wings spread open to dry their waterproof feathers.

Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)

  • Features: The black vulture is a very large bird with black plumage and grayish undersides. The mostly bald head has a short hooked bill. In flight, the wings have silvery-white linings on the underside that contrast with the black flight feathers.
  • Locations: Black vultures are increasingly common across South Carolina, especially in rural areas and along roads where they feed on carrion.
  • Fun Fact: Black vultures have a poor sense of smell compared to turkey vultures and find food by sight rather than scent. They often follow turkey vultures to locate carcasses.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura

  • Features: The turkey vulture is a huge bird with a 6-foot wingspan. The plumage is dark coffee-brown overall with paler flight feathers. The mostly bald head is red, pink and white. The bill is ivory-colored. 
  • Locations: Turkey vultures soar high over open areas across South Carolina searching for carrion using their incredible sense of smell. They roost together in dead trees and on snags. 
  • Fun Fact: Turkey vultures can find dead animals to feed on using their keen olfactory ability to detect ethyl mercaptan, a gas produced by decaying flesh.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

  • Features: The peregrine falcon is a large, powerful bird of prey with broad pointed wings adapted for high-speed dives. It has blue-gray upperparts and barred black and white undersides. The face has thick black sideburns.
  • Locations: In South Carolina, peregrine falcons nest on tall cliffs, bridges, and urban buildings along the coast and inland. Some birds winter in the state.
  • Fun Fact: Peregrine falcons can reach speeds over 200 mph when diving vertically on avian prey in their hunting stoop. They were restored in South Carolina through hacking programs.

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos

  • Features: The American crow is South Carolina’s largest all-black songbird. It has a thick neck, large bill, broad wings, and wide fan-shaped tail. The legs, bill, and eyes are also black. Adults are around 17 inches in length. 
  • Locations: American crows are abundant year-round residents seen across South Carolina in both rural and urban areas. Large winter night roosts numbering thousands of crows form in some locations.
  • Fun Fact: Highly intelligent and social, crows communicate using a wide diversity of calls that have different meanings. Some juveniles may stay with the parents to help raise young from subsequent broods. 

Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus)

  • Features: The fish crow is a medium-sized crow with all black plumage like the American crow. Its square-shaped tail and hoarser, higher-pitched call help distinguish it. The bill, eyes, and legs are black. It is around 19 inches long.
  • Locations: Fish crows occur along the coast, rivers, lakes, and swamps year-round across South Carolina, especially in the Lowcountry. 
  • Fun Fact: As their name implies, fish make up a large portion of their diet. They also eat crabs, mollusks, insects, frogs, seeds, and eggs. 

Threats and Conservation

Oil spills impact scoters and other seabirds. Bycatch in fishing gear also causes mortality. Protecting habitats through reserves and managing fisheries sustainably helps populations. Careful boating near winter rafts reduces disturbance.

Citizen Science

South Carolina bird enthusiasts can contribute to conservation by participating in surveys and databases like the Christmas Bird Count, Great Backyard Bird Count, and eBird to monitor population trends of large black birds over time. Photographing and reporting banded bird resightings provides valuable data on movements and longevity. Getting involved in citizen science projects creates opportunities to observe these magnificent birds while providing data that informs protection efforts.

Conclusion

South Carolina provides essential wintering areas for an array of impressively large black waterbirds, from hefty scoters on coastal waters to wide-winged cormorants drying their feathers after deep dives. Conservation initiatives to protect habitats and reduce human impacts will help ensure thriving winter populations.