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18 Black Birds in Missouri

black birds in missouri
American Coot in St. Charles, Missouri: Photo by Oliver Gorski

From glossy ducks gliding across wetlands to majestic vultures circling over forests, Missouri provides essential habitat for an array of birds exhibiting black plumage. Combining dark pigmentation with iridescent sheens, these species flash dashes of color amid their black feathers. Let’s survey some of the diverse black birds that call Missouri home.

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)

  • Features: Medium-sized diving duck with black back/head and distinctive white ring around bill base. Male has pale gray sides. Female is brownish overall with darker bill ring.
  • Locations: Winters in Missouri’s marshes, lakes and rivers. Breeds in Canada and the Northern U.S.
  • Fun Fact: Courting males make quiet whistle and bill-snap sounds. They forage underwater for aquatic plants and invertebrates.

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo

  • Features: Large, long-legged gamebird with iridescent black feathers and naked red head. Males have prominent fleshy wattles.
  • Locations: Found throughout Missouri’s forests and open woodlands.
  • Fun Fact: Males attract females by fanning their tail feathers and making booming gobble calls. They roost in trees at night.

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)

  • Features: Small diving grebe with blackish-brown plumage, thick chicken-like bill with black band, and patchy white under tail. 
  • Locations: Common year-round resident on Missouri’s ponds, lakes, rivers and wetlands.
  • Fun Fact: Builds a floating nest attached to emergent vegetation, often only accessible by water. Chicks ride on parent’s back. 

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)

  • Features: Cigar-shaped bird with sooty gray-brown plumage and stiff, short tail feathers forming stabilizing prongs. Rapid fluttering flight.
  • Locations: Summer breeding resident in many towns and cities across Missouri. Roosts communally in chimneys. 
  • Fun Fact: Constructs bracket-shaped nests of twigs glued with saliva inside chimneys and other structures. Aerially feeds on flying insects.

American Coot (Fulica americana)

  • Features: Plump sooty-gray waterbird with white bill and frontal shield. Yellow legs and red eyes. Aggressive territorial behavior. 
  • Locations: Abundant year-round resident on Missouri’s lakes, ponds and wetlands. 
  • Fun Fact: Builds large piles of aquatic vegetation in shallow water to form nesting platforms. Uses feet to swim and forage underwater.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus

  • Features: Large aquatic bird with black plumage. Bright orange face patch and throat pouch. Adults sport two wispy head crests. 
  • Locations: Year-round resident along Missouri’s major rivers and lakes. 
  • Fun Fact: Plunge-dives from surface for fish. Swallows prey underwater. Often seen standing with wings spread to dry. 

Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)

  • Features: Large soaring raptor with black plumage and featherless gray head. Short tail and broad wings. 
  • Locations: Common year-round scavenger across Missouri. Roosts communally in trees or on structures.
  • Fun Fact: Possess keen sense of smell to locate carcasses. Regurgitate foul smelling substance when threatened. Play important clean-up role.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

  • Features: Large vulture with dark brown plumage, featherless red head, and silvery wing linings visible in flight. Soars with wings in a V.
  • Locations: Summer and year-round resident across Missouri. Migrates further south in winter.  
  • Fun Fact: Tracks down carcasses by smell. Cleans up carrion before it spreads disease. Rides thermals to soar with little flapping.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus

  • Features: Crow-sized woodpecker with black plumage marked by bold white stripes on face and neck. Flaming-red crest on head. 
  • Locations: Year-round resident in Missouri’s mature forests. 
  • Fun Fact: Uses powerful bill to excavate deep rectangular cavities in trees for nests and roosts. Slow, crow-like flight. 

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus)

  • Features: Medium-sized songbird with black head and back, white throat/breast, and black tail with white outer feathers. 
  • Locations: Summers across Missouri in open country with scattered trees. Winters in South America. 
  • Fun Fact: Aggressively defends nesting territory, chasing away crows, hawks and other intruders. Sallies out to catch insects in mid-air.

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos

  • Features: All black plumage and heavy bill. Broad wings and wedged-shaped tail. Familiar loud cawing vocalizations. 
  • Locations: Year-round resident across Missouri in both rural and urban settings. 
  • Fun Fact: Highly intelligent and social. Builds a nest of sticks high up in trees. Omnivorous diet includes crops, insects, carrion, and human waste. 

Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus)

  • Features: All black crow similar to American crow but smaller with a higher, nasal call. Dark eyes. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in Missouri. Ranges along major rivers. 
  • Fun Fact: Forages along shorelines for fish, crabs and other aquatic life. Nests high in mangroves or upland trees. 

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) 

  • Features: Medium-sized songbird with all-black plumage except red shoulder patches edged with yellow. Pointed conical bill.
  • Locations: Extremely abundant in Missouri’s marshes, fields and roadsides year-round. 
  • Fun Fact: Males defend breeding territories with song displays. Often gathers in huge mixed flocks outside breeding season. 

Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)

  • Features: Medium-sized stocky blackbird with subtle brown head. Short finch-like bill. Males glossy, females gray. 
  • Locations: Year-round resident across Missouri in fields, pastures, feedlots, roadsides.
  • Fun Fact: Obligate brood parasite that lays eggs in other bird species’ nests. Females can lay 36 eggs per season. 

Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)

  • Features: Medium blackbird with black plumage and pale yellow eyes. Males have rusty fringes on feathers. 
  • Locations: Seen during migration and winter in wooded wetlands across Missouri. Breeds in boreal bogs and forests.
  • Fun Fact: Has shown extremely steep population declines from habitat loss. Gleans insects and seeds from mud and in trees. Omnivorous diet.

Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)

  • Features: Medium-sized blackbird with black plumage, yellow eyes, and glossy purplish head. Long pointed bill. 
  • Locations: Winters in agricultural areas and grasslands across Missouri. Breeds across northern North America. 
  • Fun Fact: Feeds on grains and insects on ground. Males display by puffing up, bowing, and spreading tail. 

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

  • Features: Large blackbird with glossy black plumage tinged with blue and purple. Pale yellow eye. Long keel-shaped tail. 
  • Locations: Abundant year-round resident across Missouri, often seen in parking lots and grassy areas. 
  • Fun Fact: Omnivorous diet includes insects, crustaceans, eggs, berries and discarded human food. Flocks migrate at night.

Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)

  • Features: Very large, long-tailed blackbird with black plumage showing purple iridescence. Yellow eyes. Males larger than females.
  • Locations: Year-round resident of Missouri near wetlands. 
  • Fun Fact: Wades into water to catch small fish, frogs and crustaceans. Often roams in noisy flocks. Nests high in trees in small colonies. 

Threats and Conservation

Wetland drainage and development reduces crucial habitat for many aquatic black bird species in Missouri. Agricultural and forestry practices disturb upland-nesting birds. Collisions with buildings and vehicles are an issue for low-flying species. Introduced species like European starlings compete with native cavity-nesters.

Protecting wetlands through easements limits destruction of key habitats. Implementing bird-friendly building designs reduces collisions. Leaving dead tree snags provides nesting cavities. Avoiding disturbance near nest sites gives chicks the best chance to fledge.

Citizen Science

Missouri birders make key contributions to conservation:

  • eBird sightings track species distribution, abundance, and trends over time. 
  • Nest box programs boost populations of cavity-nesting birds like woodpeckers.
  • Banding helps determine survivorship, longevity, and migratory patterns. 
  • Surveys like the Christmas Bird Count provide data on wintering black birds. 
  • Training workshops improve bird ID skills and data quality.
  • Outreach engages new generations in birding and conservation.


The diverse black birds passing through the Show-Me State, from iridescent ducks to vocal grackles, are an important part of Missouri’s natural heritage. Protecting crucial habitats and contributing sightings data will help ensure their survival for generations to come.