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27 Black Birds in Michigan

black birds in michigan
Pied-billed Grebe in Saginaw, Michigan: Photo by Samuel Stankiewicz

Introduction

From the sweeping forests of the Upper Peninsula to the wetlands of the Lower Peninsula, Michigan provides prime habitat for a variety of species exhibiting sharp black plumage. Ranging in size from tiny terns to robust turkey vultures, black-feathered birds fill diverse niches in Michigan’s ecosystems including its lakes, rivers, marshes, forests and cities. Let’s explore some of the most striking black birds to observe across the Great Lakes State.

American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)

  • Features: Stocky dark brown duck with paler face and throat. Pink bill with black saddle. Male has yellow eyes while female’s are brown. Quacks loudly. 
  • Locations: Year-round resident across Michigan, favoring wooded wetlands. Interbreeds with the Mallard.
  • Fun Fact: Dabbles and upends to feed on acorns as well as aquatic plants, insects and mollusks in shallows. Female has low nest success due to egg predation. 

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)

  • Features: Medium diving duck with glossy black head, breast and back. Obvious white vertical shoulder stripes at rest. Gray sides and belly. Male has thin white ring around lower neck. 
  • Locations: Widespread across Michigan on lakes, ponds and protected bays. Winters along Atlantic coast and Gulf of Mexico. 
  • Fun Fact: Feeds by diving underwater. Courting male throws head backwards touching back. Nests in reeds near water.

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)

  • Features: Stocky seaduck with velvety black plumage and multicolored bill patterns. White patches on male’s forehead and nape. Female brown. 
  • Locations: Winters on Michigan’s Great Lakes. Massive spring flocks on Lake Erie. Breeds on northern lakes and tundra.
  • Fun Fact: Dives for mollusks, crustaceans and aquatic insects. Males establish territories then attract females by call and gesture.

White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi

  • Features: Male is all black with white secondary feathers visible in flight. Orange and black knobbed bill. Female brown. 
  • Locations: Winters widely on lakes and reservoirs across Michigan. Huge flocks on migration on the Great Lakes. 
  • Fun Fact: More pelagic than other scoters. Males court females using elaborate displays with contorted postures and vocalizations.

Black Scoter (Melanitta americana)

  • Features: Bulky gray-black seaduck with swollen multi-knobbed orange and black bill. Male is dark overall with paler flanks. Female brown.
  • Locations: Winters on Lake Michigan, favoring deeper waters than other scoters. Breeds on northern lakes and coastal tundra.  
  • Fun Fact: Specialized mollusk-eater that swallows mussels and clams whole. Female returns to same breeding site annually.  

Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)

  • Features: Small sawbill duck with black crested head and upper breast. White patches on dark wings. Female has rich cinnamon crest and flanks. Raspy croak call. 
  • Locations: Widespread year-round on Michigan lakes, rivers and ponds with ample vegetation. 
  • Fun Fact: Nest is in a tree cavity excavated by woodpeckers. Newly hatched chicks jump from their tree in an instinctual move towards water.

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo

  • Features: Large, long-legged bird with iridescent blackish plumage. Males sport red, white and blue on bare head. Prominent fleshy wattles on throat.
  • Locations: Found in woodlands across Michigan after reintroductions. Largely absent from the upper peninsula. 
  • Fun Fact: Omnivorous; consumes acorns, seeds, fruits, buds and insects. Roosts in trees but nests on the ground. Young can fly shortly after hatching. 

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)

  • Features: Stocky waterbird with short thick neck and chunky bill with bold white band. Drab brown plumage. Inconspicuous aside from loud ringing call. 
  • Locations: Common year-round on Michigan lakes, ponds and wetlands. Builds floating platform nest anchored to emergent vegetation.
  • Fun Fact: Dives frequently when disturbed. Courting pairs engage in elaborate displays with head shaking and bobbing.

Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus

  • Features: Small grebe with black cap and sharply-pointed yellow tufts of feathers behind eyes. Neck reddens in breeding season. Bright red eyes. 
  • Locations: Fairly common on Michigan lakes during migrations and winter. Breeds in small lakes across Canada and Alaska.
  • Fun Fact: Nests as solitary pairs on floating platforms attached to emergent vegetation near colony of other waterbirds. Graceful and nimble swimmer. 

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)

  • Features: Cigar-shaped silhouette with sooty gray-brown plumage. Stiff wings with curved outer primary feathers. Chittering vocalizations. 
  • Locations: Summer resident across Michigan where it nests 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. Population declining steeply.

Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata)

  • Features: Plump slate-gray waterbird with all-white undertail coverts. Yellow legs and red frontal shield between yellow-tipped bill. Cackling call. 
  • Locations: Summer resident in freshwater marshes across Michigan. Winters along the Gulf Coast and farther south. 
  • Fun Fact: Walks lightly on floating vegetation, using its long toes. Nest woven from wetland plants and attached to stems above water.

American Coot (Fulica americana)

  • Features: Plump sooty-gray waterbird with white bill and frontal shield. Red eyes. Frequently squabbles over territory. 
  • Locations: Found year-round on Michigan lakes, rivers and ponds. Nests in dense emergent vegetation near water. 
  • Fun Fact: The toes have wide lobes for swimming and walking on floating plants. Often feeds by dredging through bottom mud. 

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)

  • Features: Slender marsh bird with short angled wings and deeply forked tail. Alternates slow, buoyant wing beats with fast rowing strokes.
  • Locations: Summer resident on Michigan’s Great Lakes coastline, inland lakes and marshes. Winters along Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.
  • Fun Fact: Breeding adults have black heads while non-breeders show black restricted to the ear coverts, appearing dark hooded. 

Common Loon (Gavia immer)

  • Features: Large diving bird with rounded head and spear-like bill. Checkered black-and-white plumage in breeding season. Red eyes. Haunting wailing calls.
  • Locations: Summers on Michigan’s northern lakes. Seen during migrations across the state. Winters along ocean coasts. 
  • Fun Fact: Propels through water underwater with feet placed far back near tail. Chicks hitch rides on adult’s back. Subject of many Native American legends.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus

  • Features: Large black waterbird with orange facial skin. Breeding adults have distinctive double head tufts. Hooked bill. Swift flight close over the water.
  • Locations: Found year-round on Michigan’s lakes, rivers and coastlines. Nests colonially on islands and cliffs. 
  • Fun Fact: Forages by swimming and pursuit diving underwater. Often seen perched with wings spread to dry. Guano kills nest trees over time.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

  • Features: Large soaring bird with dark brown plumage and featherless red head. Broad wings with silver flight feathers. Juveniles have gray heads. 
  • Locations: Summer resident across Michigan, migrating in flocks. Roosts communally on cliffs and in trees.
  • Fun Fact: Specialized scavenger that uses keen sense of smell to find carrion. Soars gracefully for hours without flapping.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

  • Features: Crow-sized woodpecker with black plumage and bright red pointed crest. White stripes on face and black mustache. Loud ringing calls. 
  • Locations: Fairly common year-round resident of mature forests across Michigan. Drills rectangular cavities in dead trees.
  • Fun Fact: Primarily eats wood-boring beetle larvae, but also feeds on fruits, nuts and berries. Tap excavates deep into dead trees searching for ants. 

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

  • Features: Small flycatcher with dark head and back and pale yellow-white underparts. Constantly pumps tail downward. Song is “fee-bee”.
  • Locations: Common summer resident across Michigan. Winters to southern U.S. states and Mexico. Early spring migrant. 
  • Fun Fact: Nest is an open cup of mud and grass attached to man-made structures like bridges as well as cliff edges.

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus

  • Features: Medium flycatcher with black head and back contrasting white throat and underparts. White wing tips flash in flight. Red crown patch often hidden. 
  • Locations: Summer resident across Michigan in open habitats with scattered trees. Winters to southern South America.
  • Fun Fact: Aggressive defender, chasing crows, hawks and other intruders from nesting territory. Sallies from perch to catch insects in air. 

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos

  • Features: All black plumage with stout bill. Broad wings and square-shaped tail create distinctive silhouette. Soars on wind and makes “caw” calls. 
  • Locations: Abundant year-round across Michigan from wild areas to suburbs and cities. Forms large winter roosts. 
  • Fun Fact: Omnivorous, eating everything from insects to fruit to carrion. Very intelligent, using tools to access food. Family groups stay together for years.

Northern Raven (Corvus corax)

  • Features: Massive black corvid with thick neck feathers forming shaggy “beard”. Wedge-shaped tail and croaking call. Soars with deep wing beats. 
  • Locations: Found across Michigan but more common in the Upper Peninsula. Inhabits boreal forests down to suburbs.
  • Fun Fact: Highly intelligent tool users. Mates form monogamous pair bonds. Young from previous years often help raise nestlings. 

Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris

  • Features: Stocky songbird with iridescent black plumage showing purple and green tones. Pointed bill and triangular wings. Curious and noisy.
  • Locations: Abundant introduced species across Michigan, associated with human structures like barns, fields and cities. 
  • Fun Fact: Forages in huge swirling flocks called “murmurations”. Eats fruit and insects gleaned from the ground. Aggressive cavity nester. 

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

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

Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater

  • Features: Small stocky blackbird with completely brown head. Short finch-like bill. Flocks travel and forage on the ground behind livestock. 
  • Locations: Year-round resident across Michigan grasslands, pastures and agricultural areas. Brood parasite of other songbirds.
  • Fun Fact: Female lays eggs in other birds’ nests to raise young. Male cowbird follows and courts the female but does not help parent. 

Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)

  • Features: Medium blackbird with pale yellow eyes. Male black with pale gray outlines to feathers and green iridescence on head. Female drab gray-brown. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in wooded wetlands across Michigan but declining precipitously. Winters across southeastern U.S.  
  • Fun Fact: Nest in dense shrubs over water. Forages along muddy edges probing for insects and other small prey. Has eerie squeaking calls.

Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)

  • Features: Medium-sized blackbird with glossy plumage showing bright purple iridescence, especially on the head. Male has bright yellow eyes while female’s are brownish.
  • Locations: Locally common year-round across Michigan near wetlands, parks and farms. Gregarious in winter flocks. 
  • Fun Fact: Omnivorous, eating insects, grains and berries. Female builds nest in bushes and small trees. Named after American naturalist Thomas Mayo Brewer.

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

  • Features: Large blackbird with glossy iridescent plumage showing blue, green and purple tones across the body depending on light angle. Pale yellow eyes. 
  • Locations: Abundant summer resident across Michigan in fields, marshes, parks and urban areas. Winters in southern U.S.
  • Fun Fact: Walks on ground methodically looking for insects, grains and small creatures. Often roosts communally in trees making much noise.

Threats and Conservation 

Wetland drainage, development, agricultural expansion, and pesticide use diminish essential habitats for many of Michigan’s black bird species. Collisions with buildings and towers also take a significant toll. Conserving marshes and reducing obstacles through bird-friendly architecture aids populations. Keeping pet cats indoors protects vulnerable nestlings. Careful forestry practices maintain mature forest for woodpeckers.

Citizen Science

Michigan birders make essential contributions:

  • eBird sightings provide valuable long-term data on distribution, abundance, behavior, migration, and demographics. Photos document rare species.
  • Marsh bird surveys are crucial for monitoring secretive species like gallinules and bitterns in inaccessible habitats. Regular monitoring is needed.
  • Nest box programs for wood ducks and other cavity nesters provide breeding data while boosting populations. Monitoring documents productivity. 
  • Feeder surveys help track irruptive winter finches and other visitors.
  • Christmas Bird Counts compile wintering bird data, documenting trends over time.

Conclusion

Whether glimpsed on a Great Lakes shoreline or soaring over an inland marsh, Michigan’s remarkable diversity of black-plumaged birds provides ample reward for birders. As populations face continued threats, citizen science data and habitat conservation will be crucial for ensuring thriving black bird populations into the future.