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34 Black Birds in New Jersey

black birds in new jersey
Surf Scoter in Ocean, New Jersey: Photo by Gunnar Numme

Introduction

From glossy ducks to soaring vultures, a variety of striking black-plumaged birds make their homes in the Garden State. Their dark silhouettes stand out dramatically against backdrops of forest, field, and waterways. Let’s explore some of the top black birds gracing New Jersey’s diverse landscapes.

American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)

  • Features: This stocky dabbling duck has satiny black feathers with a greenish sheen to the speculum wing patch. The bill is mottled yellowish-green. They forage on land or by dipping underwater. 
  • Locations: Found year-round on New Jersey’s lakes, rivers, marshes and estuaries. Nests in reedy wetlands. 
  • Fun Fact: They form pairs on wintering grounds, then males defend nesting territories from other males. Most active dusk to dawn.

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris

  • Features: This small diving duck has a black head, neck, back and tail contrasting sharply with a white sides and belly. The pale band at the base of the bill gives them their name.
  • Locations: Seen commonly during migration and winter on New Jersey’s lakes, reservoirs and larger ponds. 
  • Fun Fact: Breeds in wooded wetlands across Canada and the northern U.S. Forages underwater for plant foods and aquatic invertebrates. 

Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)

  • Features: Stocky diving duck with black head, neck, breast and rear. White sides. Females have a brown head and speckled gray back. Bluish bill with a black tip.
  • Locations: Winters along New Jersey’s coast after migrating down from subarctic breeding areas. Found on lakes, bays and offshore.
  • Fun Fact: Males make a “scaup, scaup” call during courtship displays, throwing head back then forward.

Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)

  • Features: Smaller lookalike of the greater scaup. Males have glossy purplish head and neck, females a darker brown head and speckled gray back. White crescent on the wing visible in flight. 
  • Locations: Abundant winter visitor on New Jersey’s lakes, rivers and coastal marshes. Breeds across Canada and Alaska. 
  • Fun Fact: The most numerous duck seen in New Jersey during winter months. A sociable flocking species. 

King Eider (Somateria spectabilis)

  • Features: Large sea duck with a puffy black head and bluish feathering on the bill, cheeks and throat. White patches at the rear flanks. Female is brown. 
  • Locations: A rare winter visitor on New Jersey’s coastal waters and bays after migrating from Arctic breeding grounds.
  • Fun Fact: Males have uniquely structured vocal organs inside their trachea to produce resonant calls. 

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)

  • Features: Stocky seaduck with an all black head, neck, and body. Orange and white bill. White patches at the forehead and back of neck.
  • Locations: Winters along the New Jersey coast, favoring estuary waters near sandy beaches. Breeds in Canada and Alaska.
  • Fun Fact: Males give a shrill whistle call and perform head throws to court females in noisy breeding displays.

White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi

  • Features: Large seaduck with rounded head. Males are all black with white wing patches. Females are brownish. Orange and black bill. 
  • Locations: Winters off the New Jersey coast, diving for mollusks and crustaceans near rocky or sandy bottoms.
  • Fun Fact: Nests in loose colonies across the taiga and tundra of Alaska and Canada. Population threatened by habitat loss and oil pollution.

Black Scoter (Melanitta americana)

  • Features: Bulky seaduck with large swollen bill and distinct bulging forehead. Males entirely black with yellowish knob on bill. Females brown.
  • Locations: Winters off the New Jersey coast, favoring marine habitats over 10 miles from shore. 
  • Fun Fact: Breeds across northern Canada. Males court females with a soft “ticka” display call.

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

  • Features: Large ground bird with iridescent dark plumage showing bronze, purple, and green highlights in sunlight. Bright red head and neck.
  • Locations: Found statewide in open woods, clearings and a variety of habitats. 
  • Fun Fact: Males puff themselves up and fan out spectacular tail feathers during courtship displays to attract females. 

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)

  • Features: Stocky waterbird with short chicken-like bill with a dark smudge, giving the appearance of being pied. Dives to find food. 
  • Locations: Found on ponds, marshes and lakes year-round across New Jersey. Nests in dense emergent vegetation.
  • Fun Fact: Chicks ride on the adult’s back after hatching. Makes a low-pitched “kuk-kuk-kuk” advertising call at breeding sites.

Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus) 

  • Features: Small waterbird with black crown and nape contrasting white cheeks. Short pointed bill. Red eyes. Neck and cheeks turn rufous in breeding plumage. 
  • Locations: Seen during migration and winter on New Jersey’s lakes, reservoirs and coast. Breeds in northern freshwater habitats. 
  • Fun Fact: Male and female perform an elaborate courtship display, including a bridal bow, bobbing, diving and more. 

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)

  • Features: Cigar-shaped silhouette with tiny feet and large crescent wings tailored for continuous flight. Dark coloration except for a pale throat.
  • Locations: Nests in chimneys and other structures statewide. Hawks flying insects above fields, marshes and waterways.
  • Fun Fact: Roosts communally in chimneys and hollow trees. The crinkly twittering song is given in flight.

Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata)

  • Features: Plump slate-gray rail with red frontal shield and white undertail coverts. Yellow legs and feet adapted for walking on floating vegetation. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in marshes, ponds and lakes across New Jersey. Secretive unless territorial.
  • Fun Fact: Sometimes walks or swims atop water lilies and other aquatic vegetation while hunting for invertebrates.  

American Coot (Fulica americana)

  • Features: Plump waterbird with black plumage and white bill tipped with dark band near tip. Shielded nostrils help dive for food. Bold white tail undertail coverts.
  • Locations: Found year-round on New Jersey’s freshwater lakes, rivers and ponds. Often in small flocks. 
  • Fun Fact: May fight over territory with vocal displays and physical grappling using lobed toes. 

American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus

  • Features: Large distinct shorebird with black head, neck, back and wings. Pink legs, red eyes and long red-orange bill used for prying open bivalves. 
  • Locations: Found along the New Jersey shore year-round, favoring salt marshes and tidal flats.
  • Fun Fact: Jabs shellfish vigorously to open them, or swallows them whole for crushing in gizzard. 

Razorbill (Alca torda)

  • Features: A chunky seabird with black upperparts and white undersides. Thick black bill with white line extending to the eye. 
  • Locations: Winters off the New Jersey coast after migrating down from subarctic breeding colonies. 
  • Fun Fact: Can flap wings up to 400 times per minute to propel under water in pursuit of fish. 

Dovekie (Alle alle)

  • Features: Very small round-bodied seabird with black back and wings. White underparts. Short black bill. Stubby legs set far back for diving.  
  • Locations: Winters off the New Jersey coast after migrating from Arctic and subarctic nesting colonies.
  • Fun Fact: Breeds in immense noisy colonies. Can dive to depths over 100 feet beneath the sea ice.

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)

  • Features: Small, slender tern with black head and underparts. Gray back and wings. Deeply forked tail. Hovers and dives to catch fish.
  • Locations: Breeds locally in marshes. Seen more widely during migration across New Jersey.
  • Fun Fact: Nests on a floating mat of vegetation anchored to reeds. Young terns are fed by regurgitation.

Great/White-breasted Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo

  • Features: Bulky waterbird with black plumage. Orange face and gular skin. Fishes by swimming and pursuit diving.
  • Locations: Seen year-round near New Jersey’s coasts, rivers, lakes, and ponds. Often observed perching with wings spread.
  • Fun Fact: Formerly called cormorant in North America, but was split into two species based on genetics.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)  

  • Features: Large black waterbird with orange facial skin. Breeding adults have double crests of thin white plumes. Hooked bill for catching fish. 
  • Locations: Perennial presence along New Jersey’s coasts, rivers, lakes, and ponds. Nests colonially. 
  • Fun Fact: After fishing, often seen standing on docks and rocks with wings outstretched to dry.

Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)

  • Features: Large black soaring bird with gray undertail coverts. Small bald black head and short tail. Broad wings with silver wing tips. 
  • Locations: Common statewide as a scavenger. Roosts and nests communally in trees or structures. 
  • Fun Fact: Soars gracefully for hours without flapping. Regurgitate when threatened.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  

  • Features: Large brownish soaring bird with featherless red head and silvery wingtips. Keen sense of smell aids in finding carrion. 
  • Locations: Abundant statewide, roosting and nesting in groups in secluded groves or buildings. 
  • Fun Fact: Migrates in loose flocks, soaring high without much flapping.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

  • Features: Crow-sized woodpecker with entirely black plumage, bright red crest, and bold white stripes on face. Excavates oblong holes in trees.
  • Locations: Found in mature forests with some dead trees across New Jersey.
  • Fun Fact: Mainly eats wood-boring beetle larvae, but also fruit and berries. Drums loudly to communicate.

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe

  • Features: Small flycatcher with black head and back contrasting white throat. Constantly fans tail. Perches to hawk flying insects. 
  • Locations: Found statewide along waterways. Nests on structures like bridges. Winters along Gulf Coast. 
  • Fun Fact: Named for distinctive “phoebe” call. Nest resembles an open shelf of mosses. 

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus)

  • Features: Black and white flycatcher with black head, white throat and dark gray back. Black tail with white outer tail feathers. 
  • Locations: Found breeding in open country with scattered perches statewide. Winters in South America.
  • Fun Fact: Fiercely defends nest from crows and other perceived threats. Eats bees and wasps.

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

  • Features: All black passerine with thick neck, legs and heavy bill. Broad wings and squared-off tail. Intelligent and highly adaptable. 
  • Locations: Found year-round across New Jersey in open country with scattered trees and woods.
  • Fun Fact: Omnivorous and sometimes food-caching. Family groups may cooperate to harass predators. 

Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus

  • Features: Smaller, coastal relative of American crow with a nasal “caah” call. Grayish undertail coverts.
  • Locations: Found year-round along the Jersey shore and inland lakes, rivers and marshes. 
  • Fun Fact: More tied to aquatic habitats than American crow. Competes aggressively with other birds.

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)

  • Features: Male has black underparts, nape and crown, with creamy buff neck and scapulars. Female is dull tan with dark streaks.
  • Locations: Breeds in meadows and fields statewide. Forms large migratory flocks traveling to South America. 
  • Fun Fact: Male’s bubbly song descends the scale. Feeds on rice and seeds in winter.

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus

  • Features: Medium blackbird with red and yellow shoulder patches or “epaulets.” Female is darker brown. Defends wetland nesting areas. 
  • Locations: Abundant statewide in marshes, fields, and roadsides. Forms huge communal winter flocks.
  • Fun Fact: Male displays attractively with puffed plumage and song spreading the red markings.

Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)

  • Features: Black body with subtle glossy iridescence. Males have dark brown head and neck. Forages on ground. 
  • Locations: Found statewide in fields, feedlots, roadsides. Lays eggs in other birds’ nests.
  • Fun Fact: Females may deposit 30+ eggs per breeding season across multiple host nests. 

Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)  

  • Features: Medium blackbird with pale yellow eyes. Male black plumage has greenish gloss with rusty fringes.  
  • Locations: Seen in wooded swamps during migration and winter in New Jersey. Breeds in boreal bogs.
  • Fun Fact: Winter diet includes aquatic insects, crustaceans, small fish and seeds. Population declining steeply.

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

  • Features: Long keel-shaped tail and iridescent black plumage showing blue, purple and green tones in sunlight. Yellow eyes. Females are brownish.  
  • Locations: Found statewide in fields, parks, and urban areas. Forms huge winter roosts. 
  • Fun Fact: Omnivorous and aggressive. Males display by lifting wings to show white lining and spreading tail.

Boat-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus major

  • Features: Very large grackle with long black keel-shaped tail and massive bill. Females are brown with faint barring.  
  • Locations: Found in fresh and saltwater marshes across New Jersey year-round. 
  • Fun Fact: Forages along shorelines and in shallows for fish, amphibians, seeds, and crustaceans.

Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia

  • Features: Small songbird with bold black and white striped plumage. Constantly fans tail as it creeps along branches.
  • Locations: Found breeding in forests statewide. Winters further south to Central America.
  • Fun Fact: Probes crevices in bark for insects. Song is a high, squeaky “wee-see wee-see wee-see.”

Threats and Conservation

New Jersey’s black birds face threats like habitat loss, pollution, climate change, and collisions with structures. Protecting a diversity of high-quality breeding and migratory stopover habitats is key. Reducing external pressures helps maintain healthy populations. Monitoring contributes to knowledge and guides effective conservation actions.

Citizen Science Opportunities

New Jersey birders make valuable contributions to knowledge and conservation of black birds through:

  • Uploading checklists to eBird, which tracks population trends, distributions, and migration timing to inform decisions.
  • Participating in breeding bird atlases and surveys which help map nesting ranges and identify population changes.
  • Building and monitoring nest boxes, providing breeding data while boosting populations.
  • Banding birds, which reveals migratory routes, life spans, survival rates, and other life history details.
  • Conducting annual Christmas Bird Counts each winter to tally bird numbers and inform conservation status.
  • Educating others through outreach programs to inspire care and awareness of New Jersey’s natural heritage.

Citizen scientist efforts contribute significantly to knowledge and conservation of black birds statewide. Reporting observations, collaborating with researchers, monitoring species, and engaging with the public all help ensure continued protections for vulnerable species.

Conclusion 

From tiny grebes to soaring vultures, black birds grace New Jersey’s skies, forests, and waterways, contributing beauty and ecosystem services. Ensuring healthy habitats exist through proactive conservation provides the foundation needed to sustain these striking species for generations.

(Check out our articles on black birds in other states, including Georgia and Missouri!)