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17 Large Black Birds in Florida

large black birds in florida
Magnificent Frigatebird in Brevard, Florida: Photo by Chris Brown

Introduction

Florida is home to lots of different ecosystems that support a bunch of different bird species. Some of these birds are big and black, and they’re pretty famous and important too. Some soar above the cliffs along the coast, while others paddle through wetlands and even cities. These birds have important jobs in Florida’s ecosystems and culture. In this article, we’ll dig into the world of the large black birds in Florida by checking out what makes these big black birds special. We’ll learn about their features, behaviors, habitats, and how we can help protect them. Come with us on this adventure as we discover the amazing big black birds in Florida and figure out how we can keep these birds around for a while.

Large Black Birds in Florida

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris):

Ring-necked ducks are medium-sized diving ducks commonly found in freshwater habitats across Florida.

  • Features: A small diving duck characterized by its unique head shape—featuring a sloping forehead and a peaked rear crown. When submerged, the crown flattens. In flight, Ring-necked Ducks present a large-headed appearance with a slender neck and a compact, rounded body. Males exhibit striking black and gray plumage, including a dark head, black back, and gray flanks accented by a white hash mark on the chest. Females sport rich brown coloring with a contrasting pale cheek, a white patch near the bill, and a whitish eyering. Adult males also display a prominent white ring encircling the bill.
  • Behavior: Ring-necked Ducks can frequently be observed in small groups or pairs, diving to forage on mollusks, invertebrates, and submerged aquatic plants. They are known to associate with scaup on occasion, while at other times, they may be seen mingling with dabbling ducks.
  • Habitat: Search for Ring-necked Ducks in habitats that are typically smaller in size compared to those favored by other diving ducks. During winter and migration, you may find them frequenting beaver ponds, small lakes, marshes, cattle ponds, or even flooded agricultural fields throughout North America. For breeding purposes, Ring-necked Ducks prefer freshwater marshes, bogs, and other shallow wetlands, often characterized by acidic conditions.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: The common name of this bird, as well as its scientific name “collaris,” draws attention to the Ring-necked Duck’s inconspicuous chestnut collar situated on its black neck. Although not particularly useful as a field mark for identifying the bird, it caught the attention of nineteenth-century biologists who described the species based on preserved specimens.

Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis):

Lesser scaups are diving ducks commonly found in Florida’s freshwater and coastal habitats.

  • Features: The Lesser Scaup is a medium-sized diving duck distinguished by a small peak at the rear of its head. Unlike the rounded profile of the Greater Scaup, the back of its head and neck are notably flat. Breeding male Lesser Scaup appear black and white from a distance, yet closer inspection reveals an iridescent purple to green sheen on the head, finely barred black-and-white plumage on the back, a bluish bill, and a yellow eye. Females exhibit a brown overall appearance with a darker brown head and a white patch adjacent to the bill, although not all females display this feature. Nonbreeding males resemble a blend of female and breeding male characteristics, featuring a mottled brown-and-gray body alongside a dark head.
  • Behavior: In migration and winter, Lesser Scaup congregate in sizable flocks on lakes, bays, rivers, and expansive wetlands. They typically gather in close-knit formations and mingle with other diving duck species like Canvasbacks, Redheads, Greater Scaup, and Ring-necked Ducks.
  • Habitat: In the winter months, keep an eye out for Lesser Scaup on lakes, reservoirs, coastal bays, and estuaries. They tend to favor inland lakes over Greater Scaup during this time. In the breeding season, they are predominantly situated in the marshes of northern North America, where they establish their nests.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: In bodies of water abundant with small crustaceans known as amphipods, Lesser Scaup frequently exhibit peculiar behavior resembling somersaults or other acrobatics. This behavior is a result of their efforts to capture the amphipods clinging to their belly feathers as they navigate through the water.

Greater Scaup (Aythya marila):

Greater scaups are similar in appearance to lesser scaups but are slightly larger in size. They can be found in similar habitats across Florida.

  • Features: The Greater Scaup is a medium-sized diving duck distinguished by its rounded head. From afar, breeding male Greater Scaup display a black and white appearance, but closer observation unveils an iridescent green sheen on the head, fine black barring on the back, a bluish bill, and a yellow eye. Females exhibit a predominantly brown plumage with a darker brown head and a variable-sized white patch next to the bill. Nonbreeding males present a blend of female and breeding male characteristics, featuring a mottled brown-and-gray body alongside a dark head.
  • Behavior: In migration and winter, Greater Scaup gather in sizable flocks on bays, lakes, and expansive wetlands. They typically assemble in close-knit formations among themselves and occasionally mingle with other diving duck species.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, Greater Scaup inhabit shallow lakes and ponds nestled within treeless wetlands of the tundra. In winter, they can be found on coastal bays, lakes, and reservoirs.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Typically, the nest of a Greater Scaup is padded with a dense layer of down, which the mother bird plucks from her own breast. In instances where females are in poor condition, the nest may lack down and instead be lined with small, grayish-white feathers gathered from beneath the outer body feathers.

Black Scoter (Melanitta americana):

Black scoters are sea ducks commonly found along Florida’s coastlines during the winter months. They are known for their dark plumage and striking yellow bills.

  • Features: The Black Scoter is a robust, medium-sized seaduck characterized by a short tail, rounded head, and a broad bill that lacks the upward slope seen in the Surf Scoter’s bill. Male Black Scoters feature a rounded knob at the base of the bill. In their adult stage, males exhibit a glossy black plumage with an orange knob at the base of the bill, while females and immature birds showcase a rich brown coloration with a blackish cap and a contrasting pale cheek.
  • Behavior: Black Scoters are commonly observed in flocks, either migrating in elongated formations or resting on the water’s surface. They are adept divers, foraging primarily for shellfish in shallow waters. Male Black Scoters initiate courtship shortly after arriving in wintering areas. Their wings produce whistling sounds during flight, and males often emit whistled calls, aiding in the identification and location of these ducks.
  • Habitat: During the winter season, Black Scoters inhabit coastal ocean waters. They are encountered during migration on inland lakes and larger rivers. For breeding purposes, they nest on boreal forest lakes.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: The Black Scoter exhibits occasional displays while swimming, characterized by wing flapping while holding its body above the water. Unlike other scoters, it typically concludes this behavior with a vigorous downward thrust of the head.

Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola):

Buffleheads are small diving ducks commonly found in Florida’s freshwater lakes, ponds, and coastal estuaries. They are generally known for their striking breeding plumage which show an almost shiny, iridescent sheen on the head and a mostly white body, but in the offseason, Buffleheads are mostly black and dark gray with a small white patch on the cheek.

  • Features: Buffleheads have striking black-and-white plumage, with glossy greenish-black heads, white cheeks, and a large white patch on their wings. Males have iridescent purple and green tones on their heads during the breeding season.
  • Behavior: These ducks are agile divers, feeding on aquatic invertebrates, insect larvae, and small fish. They are often seen diving headfirst into the water in search of prey.
  • Habitat: Buffleheads prefer shallow freshwater habitats such as lakes, ponds, and marshes, as well as coastal estuaries and bays during the winter months.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Buffleheads are cavity nesters, often using old woodpecker holes or artificial nest boxes for breeding.

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo):

Wild turkeys are large, ground-dwelling birds commonly found in Florida’s forests, woodlands, and rural areas. They are known for their striking plumage and impressive displays.

  • Features: Wild Turkeys have iridescent plumage, with males (toms) exhibiting metallic bronze and greenish-gold feathers, a bare blue head, and a fleshy wattle called a snood. Females (hens) have duller plumage with more muted colors.
  • Behavior: These birds are omnivorous, feeding on a variety of plant matter, insects, seeds, and small vertebrates. They are known for their distinctive gobbling calls and elaborate courtship displays.
  • Habitat: Wild Turkeys inhabit a variety of forested habitats, including hardwood forests, pine forests, and mixed woodlands, where they roost in trees and forage on the ground.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Wild Turkeys have excellent vision and hearing, allowing them to detect predators and other threats from a distance.

Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata):

Common gallinules, also known as common moorhens, are medium-sized waterbirds commonly found in Florida’s marshes, swamps, and wetlands. They are known for their distinctive red bills and long toes.

  • Features: Common gallinules have dark plumage with grayish-black bodies, white undertail coverts, and a bright red bill with a yellow tip. They have long legs and toes adapted for walking on floating vegetation.
  • Behavior: These birds are skilled swimmers and foragers, feeding on aquatic plants, seeds, insects, and small vertebrates found in their wetland habitats. They are often seen walking on floating vegetation or swimming in open water.
  • Habitat: Common gallinules inhabit a variety of freshwater and brackish wetlands, including marshes, swamps, and ponds, where they can find suitable nesting sites and food resources.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Common gallinules have an unusual way of defending their territory, using their long toes to kick and splash water at intruders.

American Coot (Fulica americana):

American coots are small waterbirds commonly found in Florida’s freshwater lakes, ponds, and marshes. They are known for their dark plumage, white bills, and unique lobed toes.

  • Features: American Coots have dark gray to black plumage, with a white bill and a distinctive white patch on their forehead. They have lobed toes adapted for swimming and walking on aquatic vegetation.
  • Behavior: These birds are proficient swimmers and divers, feeding on aquatic plants, seeds, insects, and small invertebrates found in their wetland habitats. They are often seen foraging in groups or swimming in open water.
  • Habitat: American Coots inhabit a variety of freshwater habitats, including lakes, ponds, marshes, and rivers, where they can find suitable nesting sites and food resources.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: American Coots are highly vocal birds, with a variety of calls including grunts, squawks, and whinnies.

Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger):

Black skimmers are unique seabirds commonly found along Florida’s coastlines, where they are known for their distinctive feeding behavior and striking black-and-white plumage.

  • Features: Black skimmers have black upperparts and white underparts, with a unique bill that is longer on the lower mandible, allowing them to skim the water’s surface for prey. They have long, narrow wings and a deeply forked tail.
  • Behavior: These birds are specialized feeders, flying low over the water with their bills open, skimming the surface to catch fish and other small aquatic prey. They are often seen in large colonies nesting on sandy beaches and coastal islands.
  • Habitat: Black skimmers inhabit coastal habitats such as beaches, sandbars, and estuaries, where they can find suitable nesting sites and ample food resources.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Black skimmers are known for their distinctive call, a sharp barking sound often heard during flight.

Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga):

Anhingas, also known as snakebirds or water turkeys, are large waterbirds commonly found in Florida’s freshwater lakes, rivers, and marshes. They are known for their unique hunting behavior and striking plumage.

  • Features: Anhingas have long, slender bodies with dark plumage, a long, pointed bill, and a sharp, dagger-like beak. They have a long, snake-like neck and a distinctive white patch on their wings.
  • Behavior: These birds are expert divers, swimming underwater to spear fish with their sharp bills. They are often seen perched on branches or logs with their wings spread open, drying their feathers in the sun.
  • Habitat: Anhingas inhabit a variety of freshwater habitats, including lakes, rivers, swamps, and marshes, where they can find suitable nesting sites and ample food resources.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Anhingas have waterproof feathers that allow them to dive and swim underwater for extended periods without becoming waterlogged.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus):

Double-crested cormorants are large waterbirds commonly found in Florida’s coastal waters, lakes, and rivers. They are known for their distinctive fishing behavior and striking plumage.

  • Features: Double-crested cormorants have sleek black plumage, a long, slender neck, and a distinctive hooked bill. During the breeding season, adults develop double crests of white feathers on their heads.
  • Behavior: These birds are skilled divers, swimming underwater to catch fish with their powerful feet and sharp bills. They are often seen perched on rocks, logs, or pilings with their wings spread open to dry.
  • Habitat: Double-crested cormorants inhabit a variety of aquatic habitats, including coastal waters, estuaries, lakes, and rivers, where they can find suitable nesting sites and abundant fish.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Double-crested cormorants have been trained by humans for fishing in some parts of the world, using their natural diving abilities to catch fish for their handlers.

Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens):

Magnificent frigatebirds are large seabirds commonly found along Florida’s coastlines, where they are known for their distinctive silhouette and aerial displays.

  • Features: Magnificent frigatebirds have long, slender bodies with dark plumage, a deeply forked tail, and long, pointed wings. Males have a bright red throat pouch called a gular sac, which they inflate during courtship displays.
  • Behavior: These birds are expert fliers, using their long, narrow wings to soar effortlessly over the ocean for hours at a time. They are often seen riding thermals and updrafts, scanning the water’s surface for prey.
  • Habitat: Magnificent frigatebirds inhabit coastal and pelagic waters, where they can find abundant fish and other prey. They are often seen roosting on cliffs, rocky islands, and coastal trees.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Magnificent frigatebirds are known for their kleptoparasitic behavior, stealing food from other seabirds by harassing them in flight until they regurgitate their catch.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura):

Turkey vultures are large scavenging birds commonly found in Florida’s open landscapes, forests, and urban areas. They are known for their distinctive soaring flight and keen sense of smell.

  • Features: Turkey vultures have dark plumage, a featherless red head, and a long, hooked bill adapted for tearing carrion. They have broad wings and a keen sense of smell, which they use to locate food from great distances.
  • Behavior: These birds are obligate scavengers, feeding primarily on carrion and animal carcasses. They are often seen soaring in large groups, known as kettles, in search of food.
  • Habitat: Turkey vultures inhabit a variety of habitats, including forests, grasslands, agricultural areas, and urban environments, where they roost and forage for carrion.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Turkey vultures have an unusual defense mechanism against predators, regurgitating a foul-smelling substance when threatened, which deters potential attackers.

Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus):

Black vultures are scavenging birds commonly found in Florida’s open landscapes, forests, and urban areas. They are known for their dark plumage, featherless heads, and soaring flight.

  • Features: Adult black vultures have black plumage, a featherless black head, and a robust, hooked bill adapted for tearing carrion. They have broad wings and a distinctive white patch near the tips of their primary feathers.
  • Behavior: Black vultures are obligate scavengers, feeding primarily on carrion and animal carcasses, which they locate using keen eyesight and a highly developed sense of smell. They are often seen soaring in large groups, known as kettles, in search of food.
  • Habitat: Black vultures inhabit a variety of habitats, including forests, grasslands, agricultural areas, and urban environments, where they roost and forage for carrion.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Black vultures are social birds that often roost and forage in large groups, where they engage in mutualistic behaviors such as “following the leader” to locate food sources.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus):

Ospreys, also known as fish hawks, are large raptors commonly found in Florida’s coastal and inland waterways. They are known for their unique hunting behavior and distinctive appearance.

  • Features: Ospreys have dark brown plumage on their upperparts, with a white head, neck, and underparts. They have long, narrow wings and a distinctive black eyestripe that extends from their bill to their eyes.
  • Behavior: These birds are highly specialized fish hunters, hovering over the water’s surface before plunging feet-first to catch fish with their talons. They are often seen perched on tall structures such as trees, utility poles, and nest platforms.
  • Habitat: Ospreys inhabit a variety of aquatic habitats, including coastal estuaries, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, where they can find abundant fish and suitable nesting sites.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Ospreys have reversible outer toes that allow them to grasp fish with two toes in front and two toes behind, providing a secure grip while carrying their prey.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus):

Pileated woodpeckers are large, striking birds commonly found in Florida’s forests and woodlands. They are known for their distinctive drumming and loud calls.

  • Features: Pileated woodpeckers have black plumage with white stripes on their faces and necks, a red crest on their heads, and a long, chisel-like bill adapted for excavating wood. They have strong legs and feet with sharp claws for gripping tree trunks.
  • Behavior: These birds are skilled foragers, using their powerful bills to excavate large cavities in dead or dying trees in search of insects, grubs, and other prey. They are often heard drumming on trees to establish territories and attract mates.
  • Habitat: Pileated woodpeckers inhabit mature forests and woodlands, where they can find suitable trees for nesting and foraging. They are often associated with large tracts of undisturbed forest habitat.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Pileated woodpeckers are known for their distinctive “laughing” calls, often heard echoing through the forest canopy.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus):

Peregrine falcons are powerful raptors commonly found in Florida’s coastal and inland habitats. They are known for their incredible speed and aerial hunting prowess.

  • Features: Peregrine falcons have dark gray to blackish plumage on their upperparts, with a lighter underbelly and distinctive black markings on their faces. They have long, pointed wings and a narrow, tapered tail adapted for fast, agile flight.
  • Behavior: These birds are highly specialized hunters, using their speed and agility to pursue prey in mid-air. They are often seen hunting birds in flight, striking them with a swift, powerful blow from above.
  • Habitat: Peregrine falcons inhabit a variety of habitats, including coastal cliffs, urban skyscrapers, and open grasslands, where they can find suitable nesting sites and ample prey.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Peregrine falcons are the fastest animals on earth, reaching speeds of over 240 miles per hour in a steep dive, or stoop, to catch prey.

Threats and Conservation

The large black birds in Florida face various threats, including habitat loss, pollution, and collisions with man-made structures. Wetland degradation and urbanization pose significant challenges to waterbird populations, while pesticide use and pollution impact the health of aquatic ecosystems. Conservation efforts focus on habitat restoration, pollution mitigation, and education to raise awareness about the importance of protecting these birds and their habitats.

Citizen Science

Citizen science initiatives play a crucial role in monitoring and conserving Florida’s bird populations. Programs such as eBird allow birdwatchers and enthusiasts to contribute valuable data on bird sightings, distribution, and abundance, helping researchers and conservationists better understand population trends and inform conservation efforts.

Vote!

Conclusion

Florida’s large black birds, including waterfowl, raptors, and seabirds, contribute to the state’s rich biodiversity and are integral parts of its ecosystems. By understanding the unique features, behaviors, and habitats of these birds, we can appreciate and conserve their natural heritage for future generations to enjoy.