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22 Black Birds in Ohio

black birds in ohio
Pied-billed Grebe in Licking, Ohio: Photo by Brad Imhoff

Introduction

From sweeping Lake Erie wetlands to the forests of the Appalachians, Ohio provides prime habitat for a variety of bird species exhibiting sharp black plumage. Ranging in size from tiny songbirds to large waterfowl and raptors, these dark-feathered birds fill diverse niches in Ohio’s ecosystems. Let’s explore some of the most notable black birds to observe across the Buckeye State.

American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)

  • Features: Stocky, medium-sized dabbling duck with blackish-brown plumage. Male has yellow eyes while female’s are brown. Lightly streaked breast and pale underwings. Loud quacking calls. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in Ohio’s wooded wetlands and beaver ponds. Population declining due to habitat loss. 
  • Fun Fact: Male whistles a “hee-haaa” call to attract mates during courtship. Female has low nest success due to egg predation.

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris

  • Features: Medium diving duck with rounded head. Male has glossy black head, breast and back with thin white vertical shoulder lines. Gray sides and belly. Female is gray-brown with darker back. 
  • Locations: Common on Ohio lakes, rivers and marshes during migration and winter. Summers to the north.
  • Fun Fact: Named for male’s subtle purple ring on black neck, only visible at close range. Male throws head back during courtship display.

Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)

  • Features: Stocky diving duck with peaked head profile. Male has glossy greenish-black head, breast and back. White flank stripe visible during flight. Female is dark brown. 
  • Locations: Winters on Lake Erie and inland lakes and reservoirs across Ohio. Breeds on the tundra. 
  • Fun Fact: Will readily dive and feed underwater. Their lined nest is on the ground near water concealed in dense vegetation. 

Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis

  • Features: Small diving duck with rounded head and peaked rear crown. Male has purple-glossed black head, breast and back. White flanks. Female is dark brown with pale band at base of bill.
  • Locations: Widespread migrant across Ohio. Winters along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Breeds across the tundra.
  • Fun Fact: During courtship, males make a “kwhee-oooo” call and hold head erect with neck stretched upward. 

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)

  • Features: Stocky seaduck with bulky two-toned bill. Male is entirely black with white patches on forehead and nape. Female is dark brown. 
  • Locations: Winters in sizable flocks on Lake Erie. Seen during migrations offshore. Breeds in the far north.
  • Fun Fact: Eats mollusks and other aquatic invertebrates during winter. Female returns to same breeding lakes and rivers each year. 

White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi)

  • Features: Male is all black with prominent white secondary feathers visible in flight. Orange and black knobbed bill. Female uniform brown.
  • Locations: Winters widely on Lake Erie and across Ohio. Huge spring flocks visible during migrations.
  • Fun Fact: Adult males make a shrill piercing call during courtship rituals. Nest is on the ground near water.

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

  • Features: Large, long-legged bird with iridescent blackish body plumage. Males have bright red, white and blue colored bare heads. Prominent fleshy wattles on throat. 
  • Locations: Found in woodlands across most of Ohio after reintroductions. Does well in mixed open forests.  
  • Fun Fact: Roosts in trees at night but nests on the ground. Poults can walk and fly short distances soon after hatching. 

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps

  • Features: Stocky waterbird with chunky white bill with dark band. Drab brown plumage. Inconspicuous aside from loud ringing calls.
  • Locations: Found year-round on Ohio lakes, ponds and wetlands. Solitary nester seeking dense emergent vegetation. 
  • Fun Fact: Dives frequently when disturbed. Courting pairs perform elaborate displays of head shaking and bobbing. 

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)

  • Features: Cigar-shaped silhouette with sooty gray-brown plumage. Stiff, long wings with curved primary feathers. Chattering and twittering calls.
  • Locations: Summer resident across Ohio, nesting and roosting communally in chimneys and structures. Winters in South America.
  • Fun Fact: Forages exclusively aerially, catching flying insects. Roosts vertically on walls inside chimneys and hollow trees. 

American Coot (Fulica americana)

  • Features: Plump dark gray-black rail with white bill and frontal shield. Red eyes. Often squabbles over territory. Calls include sharp “kerk” notes.
  • Locations: Found year-round on Ohio’s lakes, rivers and ponds. Nests in dense emergent vegetation. 
  • Fun Fact: The toes have wide lobes for swimming and walking on floating vegetation. Feeds by digging in mud for plants and animals.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus

  • Features: Large waterbird with black plumage. Breeding adults have noticeable double head tufts. Hooked bill. Swift flier low over water. 
  • Locations: Nests colonially in trees along Lake Erie. Also found year-round on inland lakes and rivers. 
  • Fun Fact: Catches fish by swimming underwater and pursuit diving. Often seen perched with wings spread to dry.

Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)

  • Features: Large soaring bird with all black plumage and featherless gray head and neck. Short tail has white bases underside. 
  • Locations: Increasing summer and year-round resident across Ohio. Roosts communally in trees. 
  • Fun Fact: Scavenger that finds carrion by sight rather than smell. Will gather in large numbers at carcasses.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

  • Features: Very large soaring bird with dark brown plumage and featherless red head. In flight, silver wing linings are visible. Juveniles have gray heads. 
  • Locations: Summer resident across Ohio. Migrates in flocks north and south. Roosts communally on cliffs and in trees.  
  • Fun Fact: Locates carrion by smell. Soars gracefully for hours without flapping. Migrate south in large flocks.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

  • Features: Crow-sized woodpecker with mostly black plumage and bright red pointed crest. White stripes on the face and black mustache lines. Loud ringing calls.
  • Locations: Fairly common year-round in mature forests across Ohio. Excavates deep rectangular holes in dead trees. 
  • Fun Fact: Primarily consumes wood-boring beetle larvae, but also feeds on fruits, nuts and berries. Uses long sticky tongue to extract ants deep in wood. 

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus

  • Features: Medium flycatcher with black head, back and tail contrasting white throat and underparts. White wing tips flash in flight. Red crown patch usually concealed. 
  • Locations: Summer resident across Ohio in open habitats with scattered trees. Winters to South America. 
  • Fun Fact: An aggressive defender, chasing crows, hawks and other intruders away. Catches insects in mid-air from high perch.

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

  • Features: All black plumage with stout bill. Broad wings and square-shaped tail create distinctive silhouette. Usually seen soaring or in flock. Loud cawing vocalizations. 
  • Locations: Common year-round across Ohio in diverse habitats from forests to fields, parks and urban areas. 
  • Fun Fact: Omnivorous and highly intelligent. Uses tools to probe for food. Forms large communal winter roosts.

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)

  • Features: Medium grassland bird. Male is mostly black except for light nape and scapulars. Female is pale brown overall with strong dark streaking. Conical bill. 
  • Locations: Summer resident in meadows and fields across northern Ohio. Long distance migrant to South America.
  • Fun Fact: Male performs a captivating, bubbling song in display flight over territory. Nest is hidden on the ground in thick grasses. 

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus

  • Features: Medium blackbird. Male is all black with red shoulder patches (“epaulets”) and yellow wing edges. Female is brown streaky overall. 
  • Locations: Extremely abundant year-round across Ohio in wetlands, fields, and ditches.
  • Fun Fact: Male is highly territorial in defending breeding wetland turf. Perches atop reeds singing a metallic “konk-la-reee” song. 

Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)

  • Features: Small stocky blackbird with completely brown head. Short finch-like bill. Females gray-brown overall. Flocks travel and forage on the ground.
  • Locations: Year-round resident across Ohio grasslands, pastures and open country. Obligate brood parasite. 
  • Fun Fact: Lays eggs in other songbirds’ nests to raise young. Follows grazing animals to find insects stirred up from ground. 

Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus

  • Features: Medium blackbird with pale yellow eyes. Male black with green iridescence on head. Female is dark gray-brown overall. Eerie squeaking calls. 
  • Locations: Fairly common but declining year-round in wooded wetlands across Ohio.
  • Fun Fact: Nest woven from wetland grasses placed in a bush or small tree over water. Feeds along muddy shorelines probing for insects.

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

  • Features: Large blackbird with glossy iridescent plumage showing shifting colors. Pale yellow eyes. Females smaller and duller. Rasping calls.
  • Locations: Abundant summer resident across Ohio in fields, marshes, parks and urban areas. Winters farther south. 
  • Fun Fact: Walks on ground methodically looking for insects, grains and small creatures. Often roosts communally in trees making much noise. 

Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia

  • Features: Small songbird with boldly striped black-and-white pattern on face and back. Underparts white with black streaks along the flanks. Very long slim pointed bill.
  • Locations: Migrates through Ohio’s woodlands. Breeds northward, winters south to tropics. 
  • Fun Fact: Forages like a nuthatch walking along branches and tree trunks probing for insects in crevices.

Threats and Conservation

Many of Ohio’s black birds face threats like habitat loss in their breeding and wintering grounds. Draining of wetlands threatens specialized waterbirds. Pesticides reduce insect prey populations. Collisions with buildings and vehicles take a toll. Climate change disrupts migration timing.

Conserving and restoring wetland habitats provides essential sanctuaries for breeding and migrating waterfowl, grebes, coots and other waterbirds. Responsible forestry management maintains mature forests for woodpeckers. Reducing collisions through bird-friendly architecture aids survival. Careful use of pesticides protects food chains.

Citizen Science  

Ohio birders make valuable contributions to knowledge and conservation:

  • eBird sightings provide data on species distribution, survival, nesting success, migration timing, and population trends. Photos help verify rare visitors.
  • Marsh bird surveys conducted by volunteers yield abundance and habitat use data on secretive wetland species like rails and bitterns.
  • Nest box programs aid cavity nesters like wood ducks while providing breeding data. Regular monitoring is essential.
  • Chimney swift tower construction and monitoring gives insight into nesting and roosting behaviors and conservation needs.
  • Feeder surveys help track movements of irruptive species like the Red-winged Blackbird and document disease outbreaks.

Conclusion

Whether a tiny leaf-gleaning black-and-white warbler or a massive wide-winged turkey vulture, Ohio’s remarkable diversity of black-colored birds provides ample rewards for birders. Conserving wetlands, managing forests wisely, and reducing collisions will help protect these vulnerable species into the future.