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29 Black Birds in South Carolina

black birds in south carolina
Rusty Blackbird in Charleston, South Carolina: Photo by Carl Miller

Introduction 

From cottony black vulture fledglings in nests to ruby-throated hummingbirds with jet black backs visiting feeders, South Carolina provides essential habitat for an array of stunning black and dark-hued avian species. Coastal marshes, Upstate forests, and suburban backyards attract these birds that add beauty and biodiversity across the Palmetto State. Read on to learn about some of the amazing black birds that call South Carolina home.

Common Eider (Somateria mollissima)  

  • Features: The common eider is a large diving duck with black and white plumage. Breeding males have a green-black head, neck, and breast which contrasts with pale gray sides. Females are brownish overall with darker finely barred plumage. Both sexes have a thick wedge-shaped bill.
  • Locations: In South Carolina, the common eider is found wintering on coastal waters, bays, and inlets mainly in the northern parts of the state. It breeds in Arctic regions.
  • Fun Fact: Male eiders perform “ah-oo” vocalizations as part of spring courtship displays while inflating their throat region. Their sought-after down feathers are collected for use as insulation in pillows and jackets. 

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)

  • Features: The surf scoter is a stocky seaduck with a multi-colored bill. Adult males are entirely black except for white patches visible on the forehead and nape. Females have a more subtle brown and white patterned plumage. 
  • Locations: Large flocks of surf scoters frequent coastal bays and inlets during migration and winter off the South Carolina coast. The species summers in northern latitudes. 
  • Fun Fact: Huge flocks called scoter rafts that can number over 100,000 birds will concentrate in prime feeding areas along the wintertime South Carolina coast.

White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi)

  • Features: The male white-winged scoter has entirely black plumage except for the white patches on the wings that give the species its name. Females are brownish overall with more dull white wing speculums. Both sexes have bulky two-toned bills.
  • Locations: In South Carolina, white-winged scoters can be found on coastal marine habitats during migration and winter. The species breeds in northern North America.
  • Fun Fact: An odd frog-like croaking call is made by male white-winged scoters as part of their courtship displays with females.

Black Scoter (Melanitta americana)

  • Features: The black scoter is a bulky seaduck with black males and brownish females. Their bill is heavy with yellow knobs and ridges. They float low on the water when feeding or resting.
  • Locations: In South Carolina, black scoters occur on coastal waters during migration and winter periods. They breed in northern Canada and Alaska.
  • Fun Fact: They are colonial nesters, with females synchronously laying eggs in a large protected area. Males do not participate in rearing young.

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

  • Features: This large bird has metallic blackish feathers with brown barring. The bare head and neck vary in color with mood and health. Males have leg spurs and beard-like breast feathers. 
  • Locations: Wild turkeys are found in forests and open areas across South Carolina. They were reintroduced after overhunting caused declines.
  • Fun Fact: Male wild turkeys perform elaborate strutting courtship displays, spreading their tail feathers, puffing out plumage, and emitting gobbles. 

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)  

  • Features: The pied-billed grebe is a stocky waterbird with a chunky body profile. It has a black head, dull black and brown striped plumage, and a thick chicken-like bill with a pale band. 
  • Locations: This grebe inhabits ponds, lakes, marshes, and wetlands across South Carolina. It is present year-round in the state.
  • Fun Fact: The pied-billed grebe can sink straight down into the water without making a ripple in order to disappear from view and escape potential threats.

Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus

  • Features: The horned grebe is a small water bird with a thin pointy bill and black cap contrasting with rich reddish-brown sides of head and neck. Golden tufts appear behind eyes during breeding season. 
  • Locations: In South Carolina, this grebe mainly winters on coastal waters and lakes, migrating through the state in spring and fall. It breeds in northern North America.
  • Fun Fact: The horned grebe can run across the water’s surface for short distances during take-off before becoming fully airborne, a behavior unique among grebes.

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)

  • Features: The chimney swift is a small cigar-shaped bird with dark gray-brown plumage and a slightly paler throat. It has long, narrow wings and tiny feet that can grip vertical surfaces.
  • Locations: Chimney swifts are found feeding aerially over fields, rivers, and towns across South Carolina. They nest and roost communally in unused chimneys and hollow trees. 
  • Fun Fact: An aerial insectivore, the chimney swift catches flying insects exclusively on the wing throughout the duration of its flight.

American Coot (Fulica americana)

  • Features: The American coot is a plump black marsh bird with a white bill and facial shield. Its legs have bold whitish lobes on the toes that aid in swimming. 
  • Locations: American coots inhabit ponds, lakes, marshes, and wetlands across South Carolina year-round as a resident species. 
  • Fun Fact: Coots become very territorial during the breeding season and will viciously fight other coots that invade their pond or marsh.

American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus

  • Features: The American oystercatcher is a large striking shorebird with a long thick red-orange bill used for prying open shellfish. It has black and white plumage with a black head, neck, back and wings, and white breast and underside. 
  • Locations: In South Carolina, American oystercatchers are found along the coastline where they nest and feed on sandy beaches and intertidal zones.
  • Fun Fact: Their loud, piping calls that sound like “wee-wee-wee” or “lee-lee-lee” can be heard from long distances as they patrol the shoreline.

Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata)

  • Features: In breeding plumage, the red-throated loon has a gray head, white checkerboard back, and reddish-brown neck and breast. The bill is thin and pointed. In winter, their underside is white.
  • Locations: In South Carolina, red-throated loons are found along the coast during the non-breeding season after migrating from Arctic nesting areas.
  • Fun Fact: Their calls have been described as eerie wailing or yodeling. They make short underwater wing beats while diving then swim with feet paddling.

Common Loon (Gavia immer)

  • Features: The common loon has a black and white checkered back and head pattern during breeding season. The thick bill is black and the neck has a broad black and white collar. In winter, the colors are more muted gray above and white below.
  • Locations: In South Carolina, the common loon winters on reservoirs, lakes, and coastal waters throughout the state. It breeds on freshwater lakes in northern regions.
  • Fun Fact: The yodeling and wailing calls of the common loon echo across lakes. The membranous neck pouch helps amplify sound. 

Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga

  • Features: The anhinga is a water bird with a very long, sharp pointed bill used for spearing fish. It has blackish plumage on the head, neck, back and wings. The tail has white banding.
  • Locations: Anhingas are found year-round on lakes, ponds, rivers, and coastal waters across South Carolina. 
  • Fun Fact: After fishing, anhingas will dry and straighten their waterlogged feathers by perching with their wings spread open.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus

  • Features: The double-crested cormorant is an all-black waterbird with a small yellow patch on the throat. It has turquoise eye rings and thin feather tufts on the head during breeding season. The bill is hooked for catching fish.
  • Locations: This cormorant is found year-round on coastal areas, lakes, and rivers across South Carolina. It nests in colonies on islands and cliffs. 
  • Fun Fact: Like anhingas, after diving and swimming to catch fish, double-crested cormorants will stand on docks or branches with wings spread open to dry their feathers.

Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)

  • Features: The black vulture is a large soaring bird with black plumage and grayish undersides. The mostly bald head has a short bill. In flight, the wings have silvery-white linings underneath that contrast with black flight feathers.
  • Locations: Black vultures are increasingly found statewide across South Carolina, especially near roads to feed on carrion.
  • Fun Fact: Black vultures lack a strong sense of smell and find food by sight rather than scent like turkey vultures. They often follow turkey vultures to carcasses. 

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

  • Features: The turkey vulture is a large dark brown-black bird with a featherless red, white, and pink head. In flight, pale flight feathers contrast with dark wing edges giving a two-toned pattern. The bill is ivory-colored.
  • Locations: Turkey vultures soar high over open areas statewide across South Carolina scanning for carrion with their keen sense of smell. They roost communally in trees or on dead snags.
  • Fun Fact: Turkey vultures have an incredible sense of smell that allows them to detect ethyl mercaptan, a gas emitted by decaying animals, from up to a mile away. This aids them in finding carrion.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

  • Features: The yellow-bellied sapsucker is a medium-sized woodpecker with black and white checkered plumage, white stripe on side, and bright yellow underside. The male has a bold red forehead patch. The stout bill is dark gray.
  • Locations: In South Carolina, this species is found during migration and in winter in forests statewide, especially those with sap-producing trees. It breeds farther north. 
  • Fun Fact: Sapsuckers drill orderly rows of small sap wells in tree bark that provide food for them and other animal species.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

  • Features: The pileated woodpecker is one of the largest woodpeckers with entirely black plumage except for a bright red pointed crest on its head. It also has bold white stripes along the neck and face. In flight, large white wing patches are visible. 
  • Locations: This woodpecker is found year-round in mature forests with dead and decaying trees across South Carolina. It excavates nest cavities in dead trunks.
  • Fun Fact: Pileated woodpeckers create large, rectangular holes in dead trees when searching for carpenter ants, their main prey. These provide nesting sites for other cavity species.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

  • Features: The peregrine falcon is a powerful bird of prey with broad pointed wings specialized for speed. It has dark slate gray upperparts and barred black and white underparts. The face has striking black sideburns and mustache markings.
  • Locations: In South Carolina, peregrine falcons are found near cliffs, cities, and coastlines. Some nest on tall urban buildings and bridges. 
  • Fun Fact: Peregrines achieve speeds over 200 mph when diving vertically on prey. Nestling peregrines were hacked from towers in South Carolina to reestablish populations.

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

  • Features: The Eastern phoebe is a medium-sized songbird with dark grayish-brown upperparts and a light gray-buff belly. It has a flat head with a short bill and frequently pumps its tail downward. A white wingbar is visible in flight.
  • Locations: Eastern phoebes nest under bridges, in barns, and on structures across South Carolina. They aggressively defend their territories, returning to the same sites annually.
  • Fun Fact: One of the earliest spring migrants, Eastern phoebes often arrive before other flycatchers and aerial insect-eating birds. 

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus

  • Features: The Eastern kingbird is a medium-sized songbird with a black head, back, wings, and tail contrasting with a white throat and underparts. The red crown patch is usually concealed. The wings have white bands visible in flight.
  • Locations: Eastern kingbirds are found in open country with scattered trees across South Carolina during summer breeding season. They migrate to winter in South America. 
  • Fun Fact: They aggressively defend nesting territories, even mobbing much larger birds and animals that enter the area.

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

  • Features: The American crow is an all-black corvid with a thick neck and large bill that it uses to feed on a wide variety of foods. In flight, the broad wings and distinctive fan-shaped tail are identifying features. 
  • Locations: American crows are common year-round residents across South Carolina in both rural and urban areas. Large winter night roosts form in some areas.
  • Fun Fact: Highly intelligent and social birds, crows make a diversity of calls that communicate different meanings. Some juveniles may stay with the parents to help raise young.

Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus)

  • Features: The fish crow is a medium-sized crow with all black plumage like the American Crow. It has a square-shaped tail and a voice that is higher-pitched and hoarser, lacking the strong “caw” of an American crow. 
  • Locations: Fish crows occur along the coast and near rivers and lakes across South Carolina year-round. They are most common in the Lowcountry. 
  • Fun Fact: As their name suggests, fish and other aquatic animals make up a large portion of their diet. They also eat various insects, seeds, and eggs.

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus

  • Features: This medium-sized songbird has jet black plumage except for red shoulder patches bordered in pale yellow. Females are dark brown instead of black with dark streaking.
  • Locations: Red-winged blackbirds nest in marshes across South Carolina. Huge migratory flocks pass through the state in spring and fall.
  • Fun Fact: Males display the red shoulder patches to defend territories and attract females. Their song is a scratchy “konk-a-reee!” 

Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater

  • Features: The male brown-headed cowbird has glossy black plumage with a distinctive brown head and throat. Females are grayish-brown with a pale throat. The thick bill is adapted for eating seeds.
  • Locations: Brown-headed cowbirds associate with livestock like cattle and are found in fields, pastures, feedlots, and open country across South Carolina.
  • Fun Fact: They lay eggs in other birds’ nests, leaving the host to raise the cowbird chick – often at the expense of their own young.

Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)

  • Features: The rusty blackbird is a medium-sized songbird with black plumage that shows a greenish iridescence in good light. In winter, rusty edges become visible on the tertials and body feathers. The bill is pointed and flattened. 
  • Locations: During migration, this species passes through wet woodlands and flooded fields across South Carolina. It breeds further north and winters in the southeastern U.S. 
  • Fun Fact: Rusty blackbird numbers have declined sharply in recent decades, possibly due to loss of wooded wetland habitat on wintering grounds.

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

  • Features: The common grackle is a long-tailed blackbird with all-black plumage showing iridescent purples and blues in bright light. The pale yellow eye stands out against the black face. Females are slightly smaller and duller than males.
  • Locations: Common grackles are found year-round in woodlands, parks, fields, and urban areas across South Carolina. They form large nomadic winter flocks.
  • Fun Fact: Their walk is distinctive on the ground, with a strutting gait and head bobbing. They often flock with other blackbird species when feeding and roosting. 

Boat-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus major)

  • Features: This very large grackle has glossy black plumage and a long keel-shaped tail. The male has a more iridescent blue-purple back and exposure of white eyes, while the female is plainer black. 
  • Locations: Found in saltwater marshes and mangroves along the South Carolina coast year-round. Nests in dense coastal vegetation. 
  • Fun Fact: The male collects marsh grasses and reeds and displays them to the female during the breeding season as part of stimulating pair formation.

Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia

  • Features: This small songbird has bold black and white stripes covering the face, throat, breast and back. The thin pointed bill is suited for probing crevices. Pinkish legs. It constantly fans its tail.
  • Locations: Found breeding in mature deciduous and mixed forests across South Carolina. Winters farther south and as far as Central America. 
  • Fun Fact: Forages by methodically creeping along branches unlike most other warblers. The song is similar to a squeaky wheel slowly turning.

Threats and Conservation 

Habitat degradation, pollution, over-fishing and bycatch impact black waterbirds. Protecting coastal wetlands through parks and reserves aids many species. Responsible boating, fishing practices, and following regulations around nesting sites also help secure populations.

Citizen Science

South Carolinians can assist bird conservation by participating in surveys like the Christmas Bird Count, Great Backyard Bird Count, and Cornell’s eBird to monitor trends over time. Reporting banded bird sightings also provides valuable data.

Conclusion

The many species of majestic black birds found in South Carolina, from iridescent grackles strutting across lawns to common loons yodeling on mountain lakes, add beauty and biodiversity to the state. Continued conservation and public engagement in citizen science will help protect these special species long into the future.