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26 Black Birds in Virginia

black birds in virginia
American Black Duck in Fairfax, Virginia: Photo by Matthew Addicks


From the Appalachian highlands to the Atlantic coast, Virginia provides prime habitat for a variety of species exhibiting sharp black plumage. Ranging in size from tiny songbirds to large waterfowl and raptors, these dark-feathered birds occupy diverse niches in Virginia’s ecosystems. Let’s explore some notable black birds to observe across the state.

Black Birds in Virginia

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 wing linings visible in flight. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in wooded wetlands across eastern Virginia. Interbreeds with the Mallard. 
  • Fun Fact: Male whistles a “hee-haaa” call to attract mates. Female has low nest success due to egg predation by raccoons.

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 stripes. Gray sides and belly. Female is gray-brown with darker back.
  • Locations: Widespread in winter across Virginia’s reservoirs, lakes and ponds. Summers to the north. 
  • Fun Fact: Named for male’s subtle purple neck ring. Male throws head back during courtship display ritual. 

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata

  • Features: Stocky seaduck with bulky multi-colored bill. Male is entirely black with white patches on forehead and nape. Female is dark brown.
  • Locations: Winters in ocean waters near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic coast. Seen migrating offshore.
  • Fun Fact: Breeds on lakes in northern Canada and Alaska. Male has a whistling call. Eats mollusks and crustaceans in winter.

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 dark brown. 
  • Locations: Winters widely in saltwater bays, estuaries and lakes near the coast. Large flocks visible during migration.
  • Fun Fact: Male courtship displays involve contorted postures and vocalizations. Nest is a depression on the ground lined with down.

Black Scoter (Melanitta americana

  • Features: Bulky gray-black seaduck with swollen multi-knobbed orange and black bill. Male has paler flanks. Female is dark brown overall. 
  • Locations: Winters and migrates along the Atlantic coast of Virginia. Pelagic in summer, breeding on northern lakes. 
  • Fun Fact: Specialized diet of mollusks. Females return to same breeding lakes year after year. 

Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus

  • Features: Small sawbill duck with black crested head and upper breast. White patches on dark wings visible in flight. Female has rich cinnamon crest and flanks.  
  • Locations: Found year-round on wooded ponds and reservoirs across Virginia. 
  • Fun Fact: Nest is in a tree cavity excavated by woodpeckers. Newly hatched chicks can jump from nest hole to the water below.

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

  • Features: Large, long-legged bird with iridescent blackish body plumage. Males have bright red, white and blue colors on bare head. Prominent fleshy wattles on throat. 
  • Locations: Found in woodlands across most of Virginia after reintroductions. Largely absent from higher mountain areas.
  • Fun Fact: Roosts in trees 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 but with loud ringing calls. 
  • Locations: Found year-round on lakes, ponds and wetlands across Virginia. Solitary nester among emergent vegetation. 
  • Fun Fact: Dives frequently when disturbed. Courting pairs perform elaborate displays with 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 twittering calls. 
  • Locations: Summer resident across Virginia, roosting and nesting communally in chimneys and structures. Winters in South America.
  • Fun Fact: Forages exclusively aerially, catching insects in flight. Roosts vertically clinging inside chimneys and tree hollows.

American Coot (Fulica americana)

  • Features: Plump dark gray-black rail with white bill and frontal shield. Red eyes. Often squabbles over territory. Various sharp, clicking calls. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in both freshwater and brackish marshes across Virginia. Nests in dense emergent vegetation.
  • Fun Fact: The toes have wide lobes for swimming and walking on floating vegetation. Feeds by tipping up and grazing on aquatic plants.

American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus

  • Features: Large shorebird with black head, neck, and back contrasting white underparts. Bright red-orange long bill and eyes. Loud piping calls.
  • Locations: Year-round coastal resident along the eastern Virginia shoreline. Nests on dunes and beaches. 
  • Fun Fact: Specialized diet of oysters and other shellfish. Uses bill to pry open shells and sever muscles.

Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger)

  • Features: Unique black and white tern-like bird with heavy red and black bill with lower mandible longer than upper. White forehead and underparts. Black cap and wings. 
  • Locations: Summer resident along eastern Virginia coast. Forages widely in Atlantic coastal bays and mouths of rivers. Winters farther south.
  • Fun Fact: Flies with bill lowered to snap up fish near the surface. Nests colonially on barrier island beaches. 

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

  • Features: Large waterbird with all-black plumage. Breeding adults have double white head crests. Hooked bill. Swift flight close over water. 
  • Locations: Year-round resident on lakes, rivers and coastlines across Virginia. Nests colonially along the coast. 
  • Fun Fact: Forages by pursuit diving underwater for fish. Often seen standing 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: Common year-round resident across Virginia, roosting and nesting in trees and structures.
  • Fun Fact: Scavenger that locates carrion using sight rather than smell. Soars for hours with wings in a shallow V-shape.

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 and year-round resident across Virginia. Roosts communally on cliffs and in trees. 
  • Fun Fact: Locates carrion by smell. Soars gracefully for hours without flapping. Migrates south in large flocks.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus

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

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 Virginia in open country with scattered trees. Winters to South America. 
  • Fun Fact: An aggressive defender, chasing crows, hawks and other intruders away. Catches insects on the wing.

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 Virginia in both rural and urban areas. Gregarious, forming large winter roosts. 
  • Fun Fact: Omnivorous and highly intelligent. Uses tools to probe for food. Family groups cooperate to raise young over several years. 

Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus

  • Features: Smaller crow species with glossy black plumage, small bill and short squared-off tail. Nasal cawing calls in three part pattern. 
  • Locations: Year-round resident across eastern Virginia and coastal areas. Congregates at river mouths and wharfs.
  • Fun Fact: Follows migrating fish and forages shorelines. Nests high in conifers or palm trees. More common in coastal areas than American crow.

Northern Raven (Corvus corax

  • Features: Massive all black corvid with thick neck feathers forming shaggy “beard”. Wedge-shaped tail and deep croaking vocalizations. 
  • Locations: Fairly common year-round in mountainous and forested areas of western Virginia. 
  • Fun Fact: Highly intelligent tool user and mimics. Forms lifelong pair bonds and recruits offspring to nest as helpers. 

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

  • Features: Medium blackbird. Male is solid black with vivid red shoulder patches (“epaulets”). Female mottled dark brown overall. 
  • Locations: Abundant year-round across Virginia in marshes, fields, and ditches. 
  • Fun Fact: Very territorial during breeding season. Males display, defending territory with song-spread flights and puffed plumage.

Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)

  • Features: Small stocky blackbird with dark brown head and short finch-like bill. Females uniformly gray-brown. Forages on ground in flocks. 
  • Locations: Common year-round across Virginia in fields, meadows and feedlots. Brood parasite.
  • Fun Fact: Lays eggs in other songbirds’ nests to raise young. Follows grazing animals to find insects stirred up from the ground.  

Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)

  • Features: Medium blackbird with pale yellow eyes. Male black with gray outlines to feathers. Female is dark gray-brown. Eerie squeaking calls. 
  • Locations: Winters in wooded wetlands across Virginia. Breeds across boreal forests of Canada and Alaska. 
  • Fun Fact: Nests woven from wetland grasses placed in bushes over water. Forages along muddy shorelines probing for insects.

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula

  • Features: Large long-tailed blackbird with iridescent plumage showing shifting colors in sunlight. Pale yellow eyes. Pointed bill. Rasping calls.
  • Locations: Summer resident across Virginia 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.

Boat-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus major)

  • Features: Very large grackle with massive dagger-like bill and long keel-shaped tail. Black males are larger than mottled brown females. 
  • Locations: Year-round resident in coastal marshes across southeastern Virginia. Nests in grassy areas near saltwater. 
  • Fun Fact: Larger and lankier than the common grackle. Forages on fiddler crabs and other crustaceans. Named for its boat-shaped tail.

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss threatens many of Virginia’s black birds, from drainage of coastal marshes to clearing of forests. Pesticides reduce insect prey. Buildings and vehicles cause collisions. Climate change disrupts migration and breeding timing.

Conserving and restoring wetlands and responsibly managing mature forests provides essential sanctuaries. Bird-friendly architecture reduces collisions. Careful pesticide use maintains food chains. Monitoring species helps target conservation efforts.

Citizen Science

Virginia birders make valuable contributions:

  • eBird sightings provide data on species distribution, survival, nesting, migration timing, and populations. Photos document rare visitors.
  • Marsh bird surveys help census secretive wetland species like rails and bitterns in inaccessible habitats. Regular monitoring is key.
  • Nest box programs aid cavity-nesting birds while providing breeding data. Following nests informs research.
  • Chimney swift tower construction and monitoring gives insight into their behaviors and conservation needs.
  • Feeder surveys track winter movements and map spread of species like red-winged blackbirds.


Whether massive turkey vultures wheeling over mountain ridges or tiny marsh-loving American black ducks, Virginia’s remarkable diversity of black-colored birds provides ample rewards for birders. Protecting habitats and reducing human-related threats will help ensure their future while bringing enjoyment today.