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25 Black Birds in Colorado

black birds in colorado
Black Phoebe in Mesa, Colorado: Photo by William Kelley

Introduction

Colorado’s varied geography from the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains and Canyonlands allows for a remarkable diversity of black-colored bird species. The state’s grasslands, wetlands, forests, and rivers provide key habitat for wintering waterfowl, breeding songbirds, and migrating shorebirds. In this post we’ll explore some of the most notable black birds to observe across Colorado.

Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)

  • Features: Large grayish goose with black barring on belly and white face blaze. Orange legs and bill. Distinctive high-pitched laughing calls. 
  • Locations: Winters in wetlands on Colorado’s eastern plains. Breeds on the arctic tundra, migrating through in large flocks. 
  • Fun Fact: Forages in fields for shoots, grains, and other plant matter. Named for white blaze on face between eye and bill.

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

  • Features: Large, long-legged bird with iridescent plumage ranging from bronze to brown to grey. Males have reddish wattles on throat. 
  • Locations: Found in woodlands across Colorado. Reintroduced after overhunting. Largely absent from higher elevations. 
  • Fun Fact: Omnivorous, feeding on acorns, seeds, buds, and insects. Roosts in trees but nests on the ground. Young can fly short distances 1-2 weeks after hatching.

Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus)

  • Features: Large ground-dwelling bird with spiky tail feathers and elaborate courtship displays. Males are mottled gray and black with yellow air sacs.
  • Locations: Sagebrush plains and grasslands of western Colorado. Population declining due to habitat loss.
  • Fun Fact: Males congregate on leks in spring to perform ritual displays with puffed chests, spreading tails, and popping sounds. 

Dusky Grouse (Dendragapus obscurus)

  • Features: Chicken-like upland gamebird with gray body, reddish tail, and yellow comb over the eye. Males make low hooting sounds.
  • Locations: Year-round resident of coniferous forests across Colorado. Roosts on the ground or in trees.
  • Fun Fact: Diet consists of conifer needles and buds in winter, seeds and insects in summer. Young leave the nest soon after hatching.

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps

  • Features: Stocky waterbird with chunky bill and dark brown plumage. Thick white band around bill during breeding season. Dives frequently. 
  • Locations: Common year-round on Colorado lakes, ponds and wetlands. Nests as solitary pairs built from vegetation floating among reeds. 
  • Fun Fact: Can sink slowly underwater leaving just its head exposed to scout for dangers and prey. Sometimes feeds nocturnally.

Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis)

  • Features: Sleek waterbird with black cap and nape contrasting white cheeks. Brilliant yellow-gold facial tufts and eyes during breeding. 
  • Locations: Uncommon summer resident on lakes and marshes across Colorado. Winters along Pacific and Gulf Coasts.
  • Fun Fact: Forages underwater for fish and invertebrates. Young leave nest soon after hatching and ride on parent’s back. 

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)

  • Features: Cigar-shaped silhouette with dark coloration and stiff, tapered wings. Chattering and twittering calls. Fast direct flight.
  • Locations: Summer resident in towns and cities across Colorado where it nests and roosts communally in chimneys and structures. 
  • Fun Fact: Catches flying insects exclusively on the wing. Migrates between Central and South America. Population declining significantly.

White-throated Swift (Aeronautes saxatalis

  • Features: Swift with narrow curved wings and stiff tail feathers. Gray-brown overall with contrasting white chin and throat. High-pitched squeaking calls.
  • Locations: Breeds on rock cliffs and canyons in western Colorado. Forages widely over many habitats.
  • Fun Fact: Unusual ability to sleep in flight by gliding while locking half its brain asleep. Catches insects aerially.

American Coot (Fulica americana)

  • Features: Stocky dark gray-black rail species with thick white bill and frontal shield. Frequently squabbles over territory. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in both freshwater and saltwater wetlands across Colorado. Nests in thick vegetation at water’s edge. 
  • Fun Fact: The toes have wide lobes for swimming and walking on floating vegetation. Diet includes aquatic plants and small animals.

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)

  • Features: Slender black tern with gray underwings. Tail forked in flight. Hovers and dives to catch fish. High-pitched cackling calls. 
  • Locations: Summer resident on Colorado lakes, marshes and reservoirs. Winters along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. 
  • Fun Fact: Breeding adults have black heads while non-breeding birds show black restricted to the ear coverts, appearing dark-hooded.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

  • Features: Large waterbird with all-black plumage. Orange facial skin. Distinctive breeding double crest. Fish by pursuit diving.
  • Locations: Year-round resident along Colorado’s rivers, lakes, reservoirs. Nests colonially in trees and on islands. 
  • Fun Fact: Swims low, propelled by its feet. After diving, often seen standing on docks and rocks with wings outstretched to dry. 

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

  • Features: Large blackish soaring bird with bald red head and strong beak. Black plumage has silvery sheen. Broad wings with finger-like primaries. 
  • Locations: Summer resident across Colorado, migrating south for winter. Roosts and nests on rock outcrops and cliffs. 
  • Fun Fact: Scavenger that finds carrion by smell. Soars for hours without flapping. Play an important role cleaning up decaying remains.

Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)

  • Features: Small flycatcher with slim body. Entirely matte black except for pale lower belly. Bobbing tail and whistled “phoebe” call. 
  • Locations: Year-round resident across Colorado near water. Builds a mud nest on ledges and overhangs.
  • Fun Fact: Hawking insects is supplemented with berries and seeds in winter. This species was named ‘Black’ to distinguish it from the eastern phoebe.

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

  • Features: All black crow with heavy bill. Broad wings and squared-off tail create distinctive silhouette. Soars in flight. Makes a hoarse cawing call.
  • Locations: Year-round resident across Colorado. Occupies diverse habitats from thick forests to prairie groves and cities. 
  • Fun Fact: Omnivorous and highly intelligent. Crows use tools to probe dead animals and discard hard-to-eat seeds. Roosts communally in winter.

Chihuahuan Raven (Corvus cryptoleucus)

  • Features: Medium-sized raven species with glossy black plumage featuring shaggy throat hackles. Longer tail and bill than American crow.
  • Locations: Year-round resident of Colorado’s southern deserts into grasslands and pine-juniper forests.
  • Fun Fact: More omnivorous than other North American ravens. Does not soar as much, with quicker wingbeats. Forms smaller flocks than common raven.

Northern Raven (Corvus corax

  • Features: Massive all black corvid with thick neck, shaggy throat feathers, and wedge-shaped tail. Soars acrobatically on broad wings. Croaking vocalizations. 
  • Locations: Found across Colorado from arid desert lowlands to alpine tundra and cliffsides. Highly adaptable habitat generalist.
  • Fun Fact: Ravens mate for life and work cooperatively to raise young. They cache excess food and remember locations. Intelligent mimics.  

Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris

  • Features: Stocky songbird with dark iridescent plumage featuring bright white spots and triangular wings. Pointed yellow bill. Mixtures of chirps, clicks, and whistles.
  • Locations: Abundant non-native introduced species associated with human landscapes like farms, parks, and cities in Colorado.
  • Fun Fact: Forages in large noisy flocks that fly in tight synchronized patterns. Nests in cavities in colonies called murmurations. 

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

  • Features: Medium blackbird with bright yellow head and breast contrasting starkly with black body. White patches in wings. Metallic oriole-like voice. 
  • Locations: Summer resident in cattail marshes across Colorado. Winters farther south. Breeds in colonies of up to 10,000 nests.
  • Fun Fact: Males fiercely defend wetland breeding territories, chasing away other blackbirds and marsh birds from their zone. 

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)

  • Features: Male is mostly black except for light nape and shoulder patches. Females light brown. Finch-like conical bill. Rolicking bubbling song.
  • Locations: Summer resident in Colorado’s eastern grasslands. Forms loose breeding colonies. Long distance migrant to South America.
  • Fun Fact: Feeds on seeds and grains. Nest on ground woven from grasses, hidden in thick vegetation. Gregarious outside breeding season.

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus

  • Features: Medium blackbird. Male is all black with red and yellow shoulder patches (“epaulets”). Female is brownish. Harsh call.
  • Locations: Abundant year-round resident across Colorado in marshes, fields, and roadsides. 
  • Fun Fact: Very territorial during breeding. Males display, defending territory with songflight shows and by puffing feathers. 

Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)

  • Features: Small stocky blackbird with male showing entirely brown head, pale eye, and short finch-like beak. Female gray-brown.
  • Locations: Year-round resident across Colorado associated with open landscapes like pastures and feedlots. 
  • Fun Fact: Obligate brood parasite that lays eggs in other species’ nests to raise its young. Flocks gather in trees and wires. 

Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)

  • Features: Medium-sized blackbird with glossy plumage showing purple iridescence. Male has bright yellow eyes and female has brown. White eye crescents.
  • Locations: Year-round resident common in parks, farms, and urban areas across Colorado. Feeds on ground insects and grains in large flocks. 
  • Fun Fact: Breeds near wetlands and other open habitats. Nest vulnerable to cowbird parasitism. Named after American naturalist Thomas Mayo Brewer.  

Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)

  • Features: Very long, keel-shaped tail and massive bill. Males iridescent black with purple-blue sheen on body. Females smaller and brownish. 
  • Locations: Year-round resident but more common in eastern Colorado towns and farms. Expanded its range dramatically in recent decades.
  • Fun Fact: Walks on ground methodically scanning for small animal prey. Also eats grains, fruits, and garbage. Forms large noisy flocks, sometimes with other blackbird species.

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss, pollution, climate change effects, and human-wildlife conflicts threaten Colorado’s diverse black birds. Conservation of wetlands and responsible energy development protect sensitive species.

Citizen Science  

Submitting checklists to eBird and participating in marsh bird surveys provide researchers with long-term data on distribution and populations. This helps target conservation actions regionally.

Conclusion

From the sweeping shortgrass prairies to the alpine tundra, Colorado provides essential habitat for many special black-colored bird species. Observe them across seasons and elevations. Your sightings and actions can help ensure thriving populations.