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27 Black Birds in Indiana

black birds in indiana
Rusty Blackbird in Marion, Indiana: Photo by Ryan Sanderson

Introduction

From glossy diving ducks to soaring vultures, there is a variety of black birds in Indiana. Their dark silhouettes stand out dramatically against backdrops of forest, field, and wetland. Let’s explore some top black birds gracing Indiana’s diverse landscapes.

American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)

  • Features: This stocky dabbling duck has satiny black feathers with greenish speculum wings. Yellowish green bill. Forages on land and water. Male has faint purple-tinged head. 
  • Locations: Found year-round on Indiana’s lakes, rivers, marshes and ponds. Nests in secluded wooded wetlands. 
  • Fun Fact: Forms pairs during winter, then male defends female’s chosen nest site against other hopeful male suitors. Most active dawn to dusk.

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)  

  • Features: Small diving duck with black head, neck, back, and fan-shaped tail. Obvious white vertical stripe along head sides. Male’s bill bears pale band near tip.  
  • Locations: Seen during migration and winter on Indiana’s lakes, reservoirs, and ponds. Breeds in northern forests.
  • Fun Fact: Male makes soft whistling call and head-throw courtship display. Nests near water in dense vegetation. 

Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)  

  • Features: Stocky diving duck with black head, breast and rear. Speckled gray back and flanks. White sides. Blue bill with black nail.  
  • Locations: Winters on large lakes and rivers mainly in northern Indiana after migrating from boreal and tundra breeding areas.
  • Fun Fact: Males make loud, screaming “scaup” call during courtship displays, throwing head straight up.

Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)   

  • Features: Lookalike smaller version of greater scaup. Glossy purple head and white crescent at base of bill. Black breast and rear. White sides.
  • Locations: Abundant winter visitor on Indiana’s lakes, reservoirs, rivers and ponds. Breeds in Alaska and Canada’s north.
  • Fun Fact: Gregarious in wintering flocks foraging on aquatic plant matter. Courting males make series of soft purring “a-a-arrrr” calls.

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)  

  • Features: Plump seaduck with black head, neck, back and tail. White patches at back of head and forehead. Large orange and black striped bill.  
  • Locations: Winters on larger lakes mainly across northern Indiana. Breeds on taiga lakes and winters along coasts. 
  • Fun Fact: Males whistle and throw heads back to court breeding females. Eats mollusks and crustaceans.

White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi)  

  • Features: Stocky black duck with rounded head shape. Males have white eye crescents and wing patches. Black-tipped orange bill. Females brown.
  • Locations: Winters on the Great Lakes after migrating from northern boreal forest breeding grounds. 
  • Fun Fact: Males give a shrill whistling courtship display. Specialized large bill filters food from water. 

Black Scoter (Melanitta americana

  • Features: Large seaduck with swollen forehead and huge brightly colored bill. Males entirely black with yellow knob at bill base. Females brown.  
  • Locations: Rare winter visitor to Indiana’s Lake Michigan harbors and other large lakes after migrating from northern boreal forest breeding areas. 
  • Fun Fact: Males’ “ticka” whistles court females. Feeds heavily on mollusks and some aquatic insects.  

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

  • Features: Large ground bird with metallic, iridescent black plumage showing brilliant bronze, purple, and green highlights in sunlight. Bright red, white and blue head. 
  • Locations: Found statewide in open woods and clearings. Often seen feeding on the ground in groups.  
  • Fun Fact: Males puff themselves up and fan out spectacular tail feathers during raucous courtship displays to entice females. 

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)  

  • Features: Stocky waterbird with chicken-like short bill with dark smudge giving “pied” look. Dusky plumage. Secretive nature. Adept at diving to escape threats.  
  • Locations: Found year-round on Indiana lakes, ponds, marshes. Nests at water’s edge attached to emergent aquatic vegetation. 
  • Fun Fact: Parents tenderly carry hatchling chicks on their back. Chicks ride jockey-style for weeks till grown.

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)  

  • Features: Cigar-shaped silhouette with tiny feet and sharply tapered wings. Sooty plumage except pale chin. Aerobatic flight catching airborne insects. 
  • Locations: Nests colonially in chimneys and other structures statewide. Hawks insects high over fields, marshes and waterways. 
  • Fun Fact: Rather than perching, the bird clings vertically to walls inside chimneys or hollow trees when at rest. 

Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata)

  • Features: Plump slate-gray rail with red bill, frontal shield, and long yellow legs. White undertail exposed in flight. Secretive unless defending territory. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in Indiana’s freshwater marshes, ponds, ditches, and lakes with abundant aquatic vegetation at water’s edge.  
  • Fun Fact: Sometimes walks atop floating lily pads while hunting for insects. Nest woven cup attached to wetland plants.

American Coot (Fulica americana)

  • Features: Plump sooty-gray waterbird with white bill and frontal shield. Red eyes. Large lobed toes facilitate walking on floating vegetation while hunting aquatic plants and small animals. Defends territory aggressively. 
  • Locations: Found year-round on Indiana’s ponds, lakes and slow streams. Gregarious, often in small flocks.
  • Fun Fact: Forages while walking in shallows or swimming. May fight violently with others, grappling with feet trying to drown adversary. 

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)   

  • Features: Small, slender marsh tern. Breeding adult has black plumage overall. Winter adult paler with dark gray back/wings and white forehead and underparts. Graceful flight. 
  • Locations: Nests colonially in marshlands. More widespread in migration across Indiana.
  • Fun Fact: Floating nest is anchored stalks and reeds in shallow wetlands. Young chicks may leave nest to wander on aquatic plants.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)  

  • Features: Large aquatic bird with black feathering and bright orange facial skin. Breeding birds sport double crests of wispy white feathers atop head. Hooked bill for snagging fish. 
  • Locations: Found year-round along Indiana’s coasts, rivers, lakes, and ponds. Seen solitary or in flocks. Often observed perching with wings spread to dry.
  • Fun Fact: After diving and pursuing fish underwater, the waterlogged cormorant often stands with wings outstretched to dry its feathers. 

Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)  

  • Features: Large broad-winged black raptor with gray undersides on short fanned tail. Small bald black head and bill. Wings tipped in silvery white. Graceful soaring flight.
  • Locations: Increasingly common statewide as year-round resident scavenger. Roosts and nests colonially in trees, structures, caves and crevices. 
  • Fun Fact: Soars gracefully for hours without flapping using updrafts and wind deflection. Sometimes in groups with turkey vultures. 

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)   

  • Features: Large brownish raptor with featherless red head and silvery trailing wing edges seen in flight. Classically soars in dihedral V-shape. Keen sense of smell to find carrion. 
  • Locations: Abundant statewide as year-round resident scavenger. Roosts communally in secluded trees and structures. 
  • Fun Fact: Deep nasal passages and olfactory lobe allow it to detect ethyl mercaptan emitted as animals decay. Soars low to sniff out carcasses.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)  

  • Features: Crow-sized woodpecker with entirely black plumage save for bold white stripes down the face. Red triangular crest on head. Makes rectangular excavations in dead trees. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in mature forests with ample standing dead trees across Indiana. 
  • Fun Fact: Primarily consumes wood-boring beetle larvae extracted with extraordinarily long tongue from dead and dying trees. Also eats various fruit.

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

  • Features: Small flycatcher with black head and back contrasting white throat. Constantly fans and pumps tail. Typically nests on structures like bridges and culverts. 
  • Locations: Found year-round statewide. Winters further south along Gulf Coast and into Mexico. Early spring migrant to breeding grounds.
  • Fun Fact: Common call is chip burr. Though drab-colored, western cousin Black Phoebe has a melodious call. 

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus)  

  • Features: Black and white flycatcher with black head, white throat and dark gray back. Black tail has white outer tail feather tips. Fierce defender of nest. 
  • Locations: Found breeding summer through fall in pastures and open country with scattered perches statewide before migrating to South America for winter.
  • Fun Fact: Aggressively chases crows, hawks and other intruders away by diving at them while calling loudly. Dynamo consumer of flying insects like bees, wasps and dragonflies snagged midair.

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

  • Features: All black passerine with thick neck, legs and heavy bill. Broad rounded wings designed for maneuverability. Intelligent and very adaptable generalist. 
  • Locations: Found year-round statewide across most open habitats interspersed with trees like farmlands, parks, suburban neighborhoods. 
  • Fun Fact: Omnivorous groups display remarkable reasoning skills, such as using cars to crack hard-shelled nuts by dropping them into traffic flow.

Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus)  

  • Features: Smaller relative of American crow restricted to Atlantic seaboard. More nasal, hoarse “caah” call. Gray undertail coverts. 
  • Locations: Locally common along Lake Michigan shores and inland lakes and rivers statewide. Intergrades with American Crow elsewhere in its range.
  • Fun Fact: Closely tied to aquatic habitats compared to the American crow. Competes aggressively with other birds and crows over food in trash or fish scraps. 

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)  

  • Features: Male is mostly black save for pale nape and scapulars. Female is beige brown with dark streaks. Shows flashy white on wings and tail in flight. Graceful undulating flight.  
  • Locations: Breeds in meadows and prairie remnants statewide. Winters in southern South America. Forms large migratory flocks.
  • Fun Fact: Male sings bubbling fluty song in undulating flight over territory. Nest hidden in dense clumps of grass near ground. Favors rice and weed seeds in winter.  

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  

  • Features: Medium blackbird with red and yellow shoulder patches bordered by slim pale line. Female streaked brown. Loud “konk-a-ree” song.  Defends nest areas aggressively. 
  • Locations: Abundant year-round in marshes, fields and roadsides statewide. Huge winter flocks roost together.  
  • Fun Fact: Polygynous mating strategy with territorial males defending up to 15 mates nesting in protected site, helping feed nestlings. 

Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)   

  • Features: Medium-sized blackbird with subtle glossy body. Male has darker brown head and neck. Female gray-brown with pale throat. Forages following grazing animals.  
  • Locations: Found statewide grasslands to feedlots where prey on unwary nesting songbirds to lay own eggs sneakily in their nests to raise cowbird young.
  • Fun Fact: Females may lay 30+ eggs per breeding season across multiple hosts. Cowbird young outcompete or kill host young. Population increases linked to habitat fragmentation.   

Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)  

  • Features: Medium blackbird with pale yellow eyes. Male black plumage has green gloss in sunlight with rusty edges. Female is dark charcoal-brown with pale eye line.  
  • Locations: Found in wooded swamps and bottomlands during migration and winter across Indiana. Summers breeding in boreal wetlands.  
  • Fun Fact: Winter diet heavy on aquatic insects, crustaceans and some small fish. Also eats tree buds and small fruits. Population has declined over 85% since 1966.

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)  

  • Features: Large, lanky blackbird with long keel-shaped tail and pale yellow eye. Purple-green iridescence in sunlight. Females smaller and brown. Gregarious in winter flocks.  
  • Locations: Found year-round statewide occupying most open and semi-open habitats with scattered trees like farmlands, parks, suburbs near woodland edges for breeding and roosting.
  • Fun Fact: Opportunistic omnivore eating variety of foods based on seasonal availability like aquatic creatures, seeds, fruits, grains, small vertebrates and eggs. 

Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia 

  • Features: Tiny songbird with bold black and white streaked plumage. Constantly fans tail while nimbly walking branches probing for insects. High, thin buzzy song.
  • Locations: Found breeding in mature forests statewide. Winters further south to Panama.  
  • Fun Fact: Specialized toe configuration allows vertical clinging and bark probing. Nest neatly woven from lichen, bark, spider silk on ground tucked amid leaf litter near logs or stumps.

Threats and Conservation  

Wetland drainage and development degrades essential habitats for many species. Deforestation reduces large tract nesting areas needed by forest-dwellers. Pesticides depletion food sources. Collisions with human structures and vehicles takes a heavy toll. Climate change threatens migration timing and nest success. Protecting habitats through careful planning and monitoring helps offset these impacts. Installing bird-friendly architecture also reduces strikes.

Citizen Science Opportunities

Indiana birders make valuable contributions:

  • Uploading bird checklists to databases such as eBird tracks populations over time to inform management.
  • Participating in breeding bird atlas projects helps map nesting distributions.
  • Building and monitoring nest boxes provides breeding success data while supplementing cavities.
  • Banding birds reveals survivorship, migratory routes and timing, and life events.
  • Conducting annual Christmas Bird Counts tallies numbers wintering in state.
  • Outreach and education inspires future generations to appreciate Indiana’s black birds.

Conclusion

From small grebes to soaring vultures, black birds utilize important resources and fill key roles in Indiana’s habitats. Protecting essential ecosystems for nesting, migrating and overwintering will help sustain healthy wild bird numbers into the future. Alongside conscientious monitoring, we can ensure these dark beauties keep gracing Indiana skies for perpetuity.