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18 Big Black Birds in North Carolina

big black birds in north carolina
Anhinga in New Hanover, North Carolina: Photo by Ian McDonald

Introduction

North Carolina’s diverse landscapes provide habitat for a variety of bird species, including several striking black birds that capture the imagination of birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. From the majestic turkey vulture to the enigmatic black skimmer, these birds play important ecological roles and contribute to the state’s rich avian biodiversity. Let’s explore the world of big black birds in North Carolina, uncovering their unique features, behavior, habitat preferences, conservation status, and intriguing fun facts.

American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Seema Sheth
  • Features: The American black duck is a medium-sized dabbling duck with predominantly dark plumage, highlighted by a subtle iridescent green sheen on the head and a contrasting pale patch on the underwing.
  • Behavior: American black ducks are migratory birds that breed in northern North America and winter in southern regions, including North Carolina. They inhabit a variety of wetland habitats, including marshes, ponds, and estuaries, where they feed on aquatic plants, seeds, and invertebrates.
  • Habitat: During migration and winter, American black ducks can be found in a variety of coastal and inland wetland habitats, including salt marshes, freshwater marshes, and tidal creeks. They are often seen in mixed flocks with other dabbling duck species.
  • Conservation Status: The American black duck is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, but populations have declined due to habitat loss, degradation, and hunting pressure. Conservation efforts focus on protecting and restoring critical wetland habitats and implementing sustainable management practices.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their name, American black ducks often hybridize with other duck species, making them challenging to identify in the field.

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Pat Draisey
  • Features: The surf scoter is a large sea duck with predominantly black plumage, a distinctive white patch on the forehead, and bright orange-yellow markings on the bill.
  • Behavior: Surf scoters are highly migratory birds that breed in the boreal forests of North America and winter along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. They are often found in large flocks on open water bodies, where they dive to forage on shellfish, crustaceans, and mollusks.
  • Habitat: Surf scoters prefer coastal marine habitats, including nearshore waters, estuaries, and bays, where they can find abundant food resources and suitable nesting sites. They are also commonly seen in offshore waters during migration and winter.
  • Conservation Status: The surf scoter is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, but populations have declined due to habitat degradation, pollution, and oil spills. Conservation efforts focus on protecting and restoring critical coastal habitats and reducing threats from human activities.
  • Fun Fact: Surf scoters are strong swimmers and divers, capable of diving to depths of up to 30 meters (100 feet) in search of food.

White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Rob Bielawski
  • Features: The white-winged scoter is a large sea duck with predominantly black plumage, a white patch on the forehead, and distinctive white patches on the wings that are visible in flight.
  • Behavior: White-winged scoters are migratory birds that breed in the boreal forests of North America and winter along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. They are often found in large flocks on open water bodies, where they dive to forage on shellfish, crustaceans, and mollusks.
  • Habitat: White-winged scoters prefer coastal marine habitats, including nearshore waters, estuaries, and bays, where they can find abundant food resources and suitable nesting sites. They are also commonly seen in offshore waters during migration and winter.
  • Conservation Status: The white-winged scoter is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, but populations have declined due to habitat degradation, pollution, and oil spills. Conservation efforts focus on protecting and restoring critical coastal habitats and reducing threats from human activities.
  • Fun Fact: White-winged scoters are known for their distinctive vocalizations, including low-pitched calls and whistles, which they use for communication and social interactions.

Black Scoter (Melanitta americana)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Martina Nordstrand
  • Features: The black scoter is a medium-sized sea duck with predominantly black plumage, a distinctive orange-yellow knob on the bill, and pale markings on the face and neck.
  • Behavior: Black scoters are migratory birds that breed in the boreal forests of North America and winter along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. They are often found in large flocks on open water bodies, where they dive to forage on shellfish, crustaceans, and mollusks.
  • Habitat: Black scoters prefer coastal marine habitats, including nearshore waters, estuaries, and bays, where they can find abundant food resources and suitable nesting sites. They are also commonly seen in offshore waters during migration and winter.
  • Conservation Status: The black scoter is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, but populations have declined due to habitat degradation, pollution, and oil spills. Conservation efforts focus on protecting and restoring critical coastal habitats and reducing threats from human activities.
  • Fun Fact: Black scoters are strong fliers and can travel long distances during migration, often forming large flocks that migrate together along coastal routes.

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Dorian Anderson
  • Features: The wild turkey is a large game bird with predominantly black plumage, iridescent bronze and green tones, and a distinctive fan-shaped tail displayed during courtship rituals.
  • Behavior: Wild turkeys are ground-dwelling birds that forage for food in woodlands, fields, and grasslands, using their strong legs and talons to scratch for insects, seeds, fruits, and vegetation. They are highly social and form flocks, or “rafter…
  • Habitat: Wild turkeys inhabit a variety of forested habitats, including deciduous and coniferous forests, mixed woodlands, and wooded savannas, with abundant food resources and suitable roosting sites. They are also commonly found in agricultural areas with hedgerows and forest edges.
  • Conservation Status: The wild turkey is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, but populations were once severely depleted due to overhunting and habitat loss. Conservation efforts, including reintroduction programs and habitat restoration, have led to population recovery in many areas.
  • Fun Fact: Wild turkeys have keen eyesight and excellent hearing, allowing them to detect predators and evade danger in their forested habitats.

Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Daniel Irons
  • Features: The black skimmer is a distinctive seabird with black upperparts, white underparts, and a unique bill with a lower mandible longer than the upper mandible, allowing it to “skim” the water’s surface for prey.
  • Behavior: Black skimmers are specialized feeders that hunt for fish by flying low over the water with their bills open, skimming the surface and snapping shut when they detect prey. They are often seen foraging in coastal estuaries, bays, and lagoons during low tide.
  • Habitat: Black skimmers prefer coastal habitats with sandy beaches, mudflats, and shallow coastal waters, where they can find abundant prey and suitable nesting sites. They are also commonly seen on barrier islands and sandbars along the coast.
  • Conservation Status: The black skimmer is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, but populations have declined due to habitat loss, disturbance, and pollution. Conservation efforts focus on protecting and restoring critical coastal habitats and minimizing human disturbance during the breeding season.
  • Fun Fact: Black skimmers have a unique feeding behavior known as “skimming,” where they fly low over the water’s surface with their bills open, using their lower mandible to scoop up prey such as small fish and crustaceans.

Wilson’s Storm Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Steve Kelling
  • Features: Wilson’s storm petrel is a small seabird with predominantly black plumage, a distinctive white rump, and a buoyant flight style characterized by rapid wing beats and gliding.
  • Behavior: Wilson’s storm petrels are highly pelagic birds that spend most of their lives at sea, foraging for food in open ocean waters. They are skilled fliers and are often seen fluttering and walking on the water’s surface, picking up floating prey items.
  • Habitat: Wilson’s storm petrels inhabit the open ocean, often found in areas with upwelling currents, converging currents, and nutrient-rich waters, where they can find abundant plankton and small fish. They are also commonly seen near fishing vessels and marine debris, where they scavenge for food.
  • Conservation Status: Wilson’s storm petrel is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, but populations face threats from ocean pollution, habitat degradation, and climate change. Conservation efforts focus on protecting marine habitats and minimizing human disturbance during the breeding season.
  • Fun Fact: Wilson’s storm petrels are highly gregarious birds and often gather in large flocks, or “rafts,” on the water’s surface, particularly during the breeding season.

Black-capped Petrel (Pterodroma hasitata)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Kate Sutherland
  • Features: The black-capped petrel is a medium-sized seabird with predominantly black plumage, a white patch on the nape, and distinctive white markings on the wings and tail.
  • Behavior: Black-capped petrels are pelagic birds that spend most of their lives at sea, foraging for food in deep ocean waters. They are skilled fliers and are capable of covering long distances during migration and foraging trips.
  • Habitat: Black-capped petrels inhabit offshore marine habitats, often found in areas with upwelling currents, oceanic fronts, and underwater seamounts, where they can find abundant prey such as fish, squid, and crustaceans. They are also commonly seen near fishing vessels and marine debris, where they scavenge for food.
  • Conservation Status: The black-capped petrel is classified as an Endangered species by the IUCN, with populations declining due to habitat loss, fisheries bycatch, pollution, and predation by invasive species. Conservation efforts focus on protecting breeding colonies, reducing threats from human activities, and promoting sustainable fisheries practices.
  • Fun Fact: Black-capped petrels are known for their distinctive vocalizations, including eerie calls and whistles, which they use for communication and social interactions.

Sooty Shearwater (Ardenna grisea)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Kate Sutherland
  • Features: The sooty shearwater is a medium-sized seabird with predominantly black plumage, a white underbelly, and long, slender wings that enable it to glide effortlessly over the ocean’s surface.
  • Behavior: Sooty shearwaters are highly migratory birds that breed in the Southern Hemisphere and migrate to the Northern Hemisphere during the non-breeding season. They are skilled fliers and are capable of covering long distances during migration and foraging trips.
  • Habitat: Sooty shearwaters inhabit offshore marine habitats, often found in areas with upwelling currents, oceanic fronts, and underwater seamounts, where they can find abundant prey such as fish, squid, and crustaceans. They are also commonly seen near fishing vessels and marine debris, where they scavenge for food.
  • Conservation Status: The sooty shearwater is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, but populations face threats from habitat degradation, pollution, and climate change. Conservation efforts focus on protecting marine habitats and minimizing human disturbance during the breeding season.
  • Fun Fact: Sooty shearwaters are long-distance migrants and are known to undertake one of the longest migration journeys of any bird species, traveling thousands of kilometers between their breeding and wintering grounds.

Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Margaretta Yarborough
  • Features: The anhinga is a large waterbird with predominantly black plumage, a long, slender neck, and a distinctive dagger-shaped bill adapted for spearing fish.
  • Behavior: Anhingas are piscivorous birds that hunt for fish by stalking their prey underwater, using their sharp bills to impale fish and other aquatic prey. They are often seen perched on branches or logs near water bodies, drying their wings in the sun after diving.
  • Habitat: Anhingas inhabit a variety of freshwater habitats, including swamps, marshes, lakes, and rivers, with dense vegetation for nesting and abundant fish populations for foraging. They are also commonly found in coastal estuaries and lagoons during the non-breeding season.
  • Conservation Status: The anhinga is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, with stable populations across its range. However, habitat loss and degradation pose localized threats to their populations in some areas.
  • Fun Fact: Anhingas lack waterproofing oils on their feathers, which allows them to dive and swim underwater more easily but requires them to dry their wings after each dive.

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Martin Wall
  • Features: The great cormorant is a large waterbird with predominantly black plumage, a long, slender neck, and a distinctive hooked bill adapted for catching fish.
  • Behavior: Great cormorants are skilled divers and fish hunters, using their powerful legs and webbed feet to propel themselves underwater in search of prey. They are often seen swimming or diving in coastal waters, rivers, and lakes, with their bodies partially submerged.
  • Habitat: Great cormorants inhabit a variety of aquatic habitats, including coastal estuaries, bays, and lagoons, as well as inland rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, where they can find abundant fish populations for foraging. They are also commonly found near human settlements, where they feed on fish from aquaculture facilities and fishing gear.
  • Conservation Status: The great cormorant is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, with stable populations across its range. However, localized threats, such as habitat loss, pollution, and human disturbance, can impact their populations in some areas.
  • Fun Fact: Great cormorants have a unique fishing technique known as “group fishing,” where they work together to drive fish towards shallow waters, making it easier for them to catch prey.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Martina Nordstrand
  • Features: The double-crested cormorant is a medium-sized waterbird with predominantly black plumage, a long, slender neck, and distinctive tufts of feathers on the sides of the head during the breeding season.
  • Behavior: Double-crested cormorants are skilled divers and fish hunters, using their powerful legs and webbed feet to propel themselves underwater in search of prey. They are often seen swimming or diving in coastal waters, rivers, and lakes, with their bodies partially submerged.
  • Habitat: Double-crested cormorants inhabit a variety of aquatic habitats, including coastal estuaries, bays, and lagoons, as well as inland rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, where they can find abundant fish populations for foraging. They are also commonly found near human settlements, where they feed on fish from aquaculture facilities and fishing gear.
  • Conservation Status: The double-crested cormorant is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, with stable populations across its range. However, localized threats, such as habitat loss, pollution, and human disturbance, can impact their populations in some areas.
  • Fun Fact: Double-crested cormorants are often seen perching with their wings spread open to dry after diving, a behavior that helps remove excess water and maintain buoyancy.

Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Michael Fogleman
  • Features: Black vultures are large scavenging birds with predominantly black plumage, a featherless head, and a short, hooked beak adapted for tearing flesh.
  • Behavior: Black vultures are highly social birds that often forage and roost in large groups, known as wakes. They are primarily scavengers, feeding on carrion and carcasses of animals, but may also prey on small mammals, reptiles, and insects. Black vultures are often seen soaring overhead in search of food, using their keen eyesight to locate potential meals.
  • Habitat: Black vultures inhabit a variety of habitats, including forests, grasslands, scrublands, and urban areas. They are commonly found near open areas where they can easily spot carrion and carcasses. Black vultures are also frequently seen near highways and roadsides, where they scavenge for roadkill.
  • Conservation Status: The black vulture is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, with stable populations across its range. However, they face threats from habitat loss, poisoning, and collisions with vehicles and structures.
  • Fun Fact: Black vultures have been observed using tools, such as rocks and sticks, to break open eggs or access food hidden inside carcasses.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Matt Spangler
  • Features: The turkey vulture is a large scavenging bird with predominantly black plumage, a featherless red head, and a distinctive hooked bill adapted for tearing flesh.
  • Behavior: Turkey vultures are highly specialized scavengers that feed primarily on carrion, using their keen sense of smell to locate dead animals from high altitudes. They are often seen soaring in thermals or circling over open landscapes in search of food.
  • Habitat: Turkey vultures inhabit a variety of open habitats, including grasslands, forests, deserts, and coastal areas, where they can find abundant food resources and suitable roosting sites. They are also commonly seen near roadsides and highways, where they scavenge for roadkill.
  • Conservation Status: The turkey vulture is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, with stable populations across its range. However, they face threats from habitat loss, poisoning, and collisions with vehicles and structures.
  • Fun Fact: Turkey vultures have an excellent sense of smell, allowing them to detect the odor of decaying flesh from several kilometers away, making them highly efficient scavengers.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Michael Fogleman
  • Features: The pileated woodpecker is a large, striking woodpecker with predominantly black plumage, a bright red crest on the head, and distinctive white wing patches visible in flight.
  • Behavior: Pileated woodpeckers are skilled excavators and foragers, using their powerful bills to chip away at tree bark and probe for insects, grubs, and other prey hiding beneath the surface. They are often seen foraging on tree trunks and branches in mature forests.
  • Habitat: Pileated woodpeckers inhabit a variety of forested habitats, including deciduous and coniferous forests, mixed woodlands, and wooded swamps, with large trees for nesting and abundant insect populations for foraging. They are also commonly found in urban and suburban areas with mature trees.
  • Conservation Status: The pileated woodpecker is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, with stable populations across its range. However, habitat loss and degradation pose localized threats to their populations in some areas.
  • Fun Fact: Pileated woodpeckers are known for their distinctive drumming sounds, which they produce by rapidly hammering their bills against dead trees and branches to establish territories and attract mates.

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Ronan Nicholson
  • Features: The American crow is a medium-sized songbird with predominantly black plumage, a sturdy bill, and a distinctive cawing call that is often heard in urban and suburban areas.
  • Behavior: American crows are highly adaptable birds that inhabit a wide range of habitats, including forests, grasslands, agricultural fields, and urban areas, where they forage for a variety of food items, including insects, seeds, fruits, and carrion. They are often seen in large flocks, or “murders,” particularly during the non-breeding season.
  • Habitat: American crows inhabit a variety of terrestrial habitats, including forests, woodlots, parks, and residential areas, where they can find food, water, and suitable nesting sites. They are also commonly seen near agricultural fields and landfills, where they scavenge for food.
  • Conservation Status: The American crow is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, with stable populations across its range. However, they face threats from habitat loss, pesticide use, and persecution by humans.
  • Fun Fact: American crows are highly intelligent birds and are known for their problem-solving abilities, tool use, and complex social behaviors, including cooperative breeding and mobbing of predators.

Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Jeffrey Blalock
  • Features: Fish crows are medium-sized, all-black birds with a distinctive call that is often described as a nasal “caw.”
  • Behavior: Fish crows are highly adaptable birds that inhabit a variety of habitats, including coastal areas, wetlands, forests, and urban environments. They are often seen foraging for food along shorelines, riverbanks, and marshes, where they feed on a variety of prey, including fish, crustaceans, insects, and small vertebrates. Fish crows are known for their intelligence and resourcefulness, using innovative foraging techniques to obtain food.
  • Habitat: Fish crows are commonly found in coastal habitats, including salt marshes, estuaries, and mangrove swamps, where they can find abundant food resources and suitable nesting sites. They are also frequently seen in urban and suburban areas, where they scavenge for food and nest in trees, buildings, and other structures.
  • Conservation Status: The fish crow is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, with stable populations across its range. However, they face threats from habitat loss, pollution, and human disturbance, particularly in coastal areas.
  • Fun Fact: Fish crows are known for their vocalizations, which include a variety of calls, vocalizations, and even mimicry of other bird species. They are often heard calling loudly in groups, especially during the breeding season.

Northern Raven (Corvus corax)

big black birds in north carolina
Photo by Barbara Edwards
  • Features: The northern raven is a large, robust songbird with predominantly black plumage, a massive bill, and a distinctive croaking call that is often heard in northern forests and tundra habitats.
  • Behavior: Northern ravens are highly intelligent birds with complex social behaviors and vocalizations, including mimicry of other bird species and human sounds. They are often seen foraging for food in a variety of habitats, including forests, tundra, and coastal cliffs, where they scavenge for carrion and hunt for small mammals, birds, and eggs.
  • Habitat: Northern ravens inhabit a variety of terrestrial habitats, including boreal forests, alpine tundra, coastal cliffs, and urban areas, where they can find food, water, and suitable nesting sites. They are also commonly seen near human settlements, where they scavenge for food and nest on buildings and structures.
  • Conservation Status: The northern raven is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, with stable populations across its range. However, they face threats from habitat loss, climate change, and persecution by humans.
  • Fun Fact: Northern ravens are known for their playful behaviors, including aerial acrobatics, sliding on snow slopes, and using objects as toys, which helps them maintain social bonds and alleviate boredom.

Threats and Conservation

While many of North Carolina’s big black birds are relatively common and widespread, they still face a range of threats to their populations and habitats. Habitat loss and degradation, pollution, climate change, and human disturbance are among the primary challenges these birds must contend with. Conservation efforts, including habitat restoration, protected area management, and public education, are essential for ensuring the long-term survival of these iconic species.

Citizen Science

Citizen science plays a vital role in monitoring bird populations and gathering data on their distribution, behavior, and abundance. Birdwatchers, nature enthusiasts, and concerned citizens can contribute valuable observations through programs such as eBird, which allows users to record and share their bird sightings online. By participating in citizen science initiatives, individuals can help scientists and conservationists better understand the needs of North Carolina’s big black birds and take informed action to protect them for future generations.

Conclusion

North Carolina’s big black birds are not only fascinating and beautiful creatures but also important components of the state’s rich natural heritage. From the coastal waters to the mountain forests, these birds inhabit a variety of habitats and play crucial ecological roles as predators, scavengers, and seed dispersers. By appreciating and conserving these iconic species, we can ensure that North Carolina remains a haven for birds and biodiversity for years to come.