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34 Black Birds in Wisconsin

black birds in wisconsin
Bobolink in Dane, Wisconsin: Photo by Matt Boley

Introduction

Wisconsin’s diverse landscapes from coniferous forests to Great Lakes coastlines sustain almost 500 bird species playing vital ecosystem roles. Among the state’s kaleidoscopic birds, there are loads of black birds in Wisconsin. With a smorgasbord of habitats spanning prairie potholes to mixed boreal woods, Wisconsin offers refuge to fascinating black birds worth discovering. This article explores beloved resident and migratory black birds spotting the Badger State’s skies.

American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)

  • Features: This stocky, midnight-hued dabbling duck sports iridescent green-purple speculum wing feathers. The male’s mottled yellow-green bill couples with a hint of purple cheek striping. Finding secluded wetland nest sites, females line ground bowl scrapes with ample down concealing their muted earth-toned eggs.
  • Locations: Year-round inhabitant of Wisconsin’s wooded backwater sloughs, beaver flowages, bog lakes and meandering rivers farther from human disturbance. 
  • Fun Fact: This secretive duck grows exceptionally wary through hunting pressure and habitat alterations requiring conservation focus. They forage most actively during dusk and overnight hours.

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris

  • Features: Compact diving duck clothed in velvety black head, grey back and sides. Sharp vertical white stripe along the flanks makes this duck seem banded. Males sport a faint chestnut neck ring and gray bill with white band near the tip during breeding season. 
  • Locations: Common transient species on migration atop Wisconsin waters. They winter on large lakes and reservoirs after departing subarctic taiga nesting grounds. 
  • Fun Fact: Courting males make soft whistling vocalizations throwing heads back parallel to their body in flashy displays to entice mates.  

Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)  

  • Features: Plump diving duck dressed in black head, back and underparts showing iridescent green sheen and white sides. This bus-sized waterfowl displays intricate feather patterning. Large rounded head sports bold blue bill.  
  • Locations: Visits the Great Lakes and larger Wisconsin lakes chiefly during spring and fall migrations. They summer breeding on northern tundra lakes then winter farther south.
  • Fun Fact: The male’s raspy “scaup, scaup, scaup” mating call rings over water as he snaps head vertically up then down during courtship. 

Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)

  • Features: Lookalike smaller cousin of the Greater Scaup with glossy purplish head, black rear and speckled gray back. Shows white sides and flanks contrasting darker key areas. Bill has roundish nail matching blue hue. 
  • Locations: Abundant visitor during migration atop Wisconsin lakes, reservoirs and rivers. They nest farther north before returning to overwinter. 
  • Fun Fact: Large rafts of Lesser Scaup chase drifting algae and small mollusks underwater blowing bubbles to flush out prey. Female builds nest woven of available dried aquatic vegetation.

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata

  • Features: Plump seaduck colored solid black with bold white patches before the eye and atop its crown. Heavy red and black striped bill matches flashy white head dots.  
  • Locations: In migration, small flocks stop by the Great Lakes. Breeding plumage males sport knobby multi-colored bills and white forehead/nape spots.
  • Fun Fact: Males make a sharp piercing whistle moving heads in showy mating displays. They winter along both coasts after nesting inside dense boreal forest.

White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi)  

  • Features: Male has white eye crescents and secondary wing patches contrasting jet black body with swollen bulging forehead profile. Orange bill with black nail. Female mottled brown overall with vague face markings. 
  • Locations: Winters off Wisconsin after outflowing from inland boreal forest nest lakes. Groups found on Lake Michigan and Superior near shore among other seaducks. 
  • Fun Fact: Named to honor French anatomist Félix Degland. The male’s vocal courtship call is a catlike wailing tremolo appreciable at closer range. 

Black Scoter (Melanitta americana)

  • Features: A hefty seaduck with hulking head and bill, black all over save for flashy yellow-orange basal bulb at the upper mandible base. Female darker brown. Rare inland. 
  • Locations: Winters along Wisconsin’s Lake Superior after migrating down coastlines from subarctic breeding habitats. 
  • Fun Fact: Males whistle a repetitive soft, low “ticka” display call to court females preening dorsal feather plumes forward. Diet dominated by mollusks plus some insects. 

Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)  

  • Features: Elegant duck dressed in black crested cap and upper back atop a white breast with cinnamon flanks. Obvious round white patch ahead of the eye.Red iris eyes ringed in gold. Namesake collar erects during courtship. 
  • Locations: Found year-round breeding on Wisconsin freshwater ponds, rivers and wooded wetlands rich in aquatic life. Most winter farther south. 
  • Fun Fact: Call sounds like rolling cackle laugh. Female uses tree hollow or box for nest often lining with down plucked from her chest. 

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo

  • Features: One of North America’s largest ground birds displays iridescent black feathers with bright bronzy green and purple metallic dazzling in direct sunlight. Vivid red, white and blue head decorates these fairly cautious birds.
  • Locations: Found statewide in forests, brushy oak groves, old farm fields, open grassy expanses foraging on the ground scratching often in small flocks called rafters.  
  • Fun Fact: Courting males puff themselves into beach ball form while dragging wings to create vibrations meant to mimic rival challengers stomping about as they vigorously strut before indifferent hens. 

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)  

  • Features: Stocky waterbird with short chicken-like conical bill boldly banded in black and white giving this wetland denizen their “pied” look. Muted blackish plumage helps them vanish into marsh shadows only betraying position by their frequent calls. 
  • Locations: Discovered year-round inhabiting Wisconsin’s slow streams, ponds, lakes, reservoirs and marshes dappled among emergent vegetation sheltering against shorelines. 
  • Fun Fact: Both parents tenderly transport day-old black and brown striped chicks riding jockey-style on their backs granting safe passage about critical early weeks until the young grow more independent. 

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)

  • Features: Silhouette resembles a dark flying cigar with subtly lighter throat. Chimney Swifts have tiny feathered feet and sharply tapered wings permitting continuous frenzied flight upon air currents while snatching flying insect prey.  
  • Locations: Nests colonially in urban and rural chimneys. Hawks insects skimming high over fields, marshes and waterways on outstretched bowed wings seemingly emaciated in profile. Migrates each fall to winter in South American roosts.  
  • Fun Fact: Rather than costly perching given their physiology, these birds instead grip vertical surfaces inside chimneys or hollow trees using sharp claws when resting.  

Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata)  

  • Features: Plump slate-gray marsh bird with crimson bill, frontal shield spot and lanky yellow legs. White undertail becomes visible flashing during flight between dense reedy habitats. Secretive unless defending territory. 
  • Locations: Found inhabiting Wisconsin’s persistent freshwater marshes, ponds, lakes, streams and ditches lined with abundant lush emergent vegetation like cattails or water lilies supplying cover and foraging options. 
  • Fun Fact: Sometimes walks atop floating lily pads while hunting insects. Nest woven into a deep cup attached to wetland vegetation above waterline to avoid flooding threats. Young depart nest soon after hatching.

American Coot (Fulica americana)  

  • Features: Plump sooty-black waterbird with clean white bill tipped by dark nail near the end. Coots also show snowy undertail coverts and red eyes. Large lobed scales on toes assist walking on plant matter across water surface while feeding or fighting. Gregarious outside breeding season.
  • Locations: Encountered on Wisconsin ponds, lakes, reservoirs, streams and rivers year-round. Often congregates in large wintering rafts. 
  • Fun Fact: Forages by grazing on aquatic plants while walking or tipping forward to grab food items. Known for occasional vicious fights over territory rights employing feet and bill grappling to dominate competitors.

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger)   

  • Features: Small slender marsh tern colored dark gray back above black hooded head and wings. Winter adults appear paler with white forehead and underparts. Deeply forked tail and buoyant flight. 
  • Locations: Found nesting semi-colonially in flooded reed marshes. More widespread when gathering in migration concentrated at abundant feeding sites across Wisconsin.
  • Fun Fact: Males offer elaborate fishy gifts to mating prospects. Nest is a woven anchored floating platform with eggs quickly camouflaged by each parent adding supporting wetland vegetation pulled from below as available. 

Common Loon (Gavia immer)

  • Features: Iconic waterbird with sharp black dagger bill used for spearing fish. Alternating black and white checkerboard back pattern. In breeding plumage headdresses sleek spotted necklaces and crisscrossed back stripes. Red eyes peer watchfully over aquatic hunting grounds. Hatched chicks ride on parent’s back. 
  • Locations: Summers breeding on pristine northern lakes before migrating to large fresh bodies of open water all across Wisconsin’s interior and along Great Lakes shorelines. 
  • Fun Fact: Strident wailing calls echoing across misty waters conjure wilderness immersion. Known for swallowing prey underwater then surfacing later to extract bony bits from throat. 

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)   

  • Features: Large black waterbird with thick neck and fiercely hooked bill for grasping slick fish. Bright orange facial skin decorates this feathered fisher. Breeding adults grow specialized white flank plumes doubling as ornamental crests. After diving they often stand wings akimbo to dry.
  • Locations: Found year-round near Wisconsin’s rivers, lakes, reservoirs, ponds and coastlines. They gather in exceptionally large breeding colonies dotted islandside along Lake Superior shorelines and across interior locations optimizing fish foraging. 
  • Fun Fact: After diving and pursuing fish they ingest whole underwater, this waterbird finishes the hunt by standing to spread wings helping dry soggy plumage and flush bodily tissues with renewed oxygen. 

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)   

  • Features: Imposing mostly brown raptor showing black flight feathers and tail brilliant against silver wing undersides best appreciated soaring overhead. Featherless wrinkled red head and ivory beak adapt them perfectly for consuming carrion showing no table manners. Broad 6 foot wings enable skilled easy soaring.
  • Locations: Common statewide as a year-round resident scavenger. They soar gracefully at lower elevations meticulously combing fields and roads by enhanced smell to discover animal remains. When resting or breeding these social raptors roost together on dead snags and rock crevices lining bluffs and steep hillsides. 
  • Fun Fact: Turkey Vulture’s uniquely keyed nostrils detect trace amounts of ethyl mercaptan gas emitted during the decomposition process to pinpoint possible meat sources from impressive distances even through forests. 

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)   

  • Features: Adults are entirely black with vivid crimson crest made unmistakable while undulating between tall trees that they skillfully manage to both perch upon and excavate. Flashes of white underwings appear during flight. Loud rattling calls announce their presence. This crow-sized woodpecker bears an outsized ivory bill making rectangular holes exposing hiding tasty carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larvae deepest inner reaches. 
  • Locations: Encountered year-round inhabiting Wisconsin’s dense mature woodlands and floodplain forests with ample standing dead trees for both nesting and feeding requirements. 
  • Fun Fact: Prized food includes carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larvae extracted using extraordinarily long tongues from excavated rotten stumps and decaying branches. Also consumes various seasonal fruits and tree sap. Constantly drums trunks keeping woodpecker Morse code busy across their territory.   

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)  

  • Features: Sleek powerful raptors with trademark thick black cheek sideburns below sharply hooked beaks ideal for their speedy aerial attack dives called stoops. Cool bluish-gray back contrasts lighter throat and underparts with delicate dark spotting. Swift pointed wings permit hurtling nearly 200 miles per hour seizing birds in mid flight! 
  • Locations: Found year-round throughout Wisconsin near ample food sources like wetlands and waterways attracting abundant waterfowl. Some migrate south from nesting on tall lakeside or large river gorge cliffs. Require spacious open flyways. 
  • Fun Fact: Among earth’s fastest animals. Nearly disappeared mid-century from DDT pesticide buildup before dedicated captive breeding recovery efforts expanded populations allowing successful hacking reintroductions across ancestral territories. 

Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens 

  • Features: Drab olive-gray songbird with faint wingbars. Blackish wings and tail contrast two pale distinct wingbars visible while flycatching insects caught on the wing after short aerial sallies from an open perch. Monotone buzzy “preeh” song echoes humorlessly through dense woods. 
  • Locations: Summers breeding in Wisconsin’s broadleaf forests before migrating each fall to wintering grounds in southern Central America. 
  • Fun Fact: Constructs a clever nest saddle-straddled upon a tree limb woven from spider silk and lichen bits designed to resemble arboreal fungus growths helping conceal incubating parents from prying eyes.  

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)   

  • Features: Small flycatcher with black head and contrasting clean white throat. Brownish wings against pale yellow belly. Constantly pumps tail downward while upright perching. 
  • Locations: Found year-round statewide typically nesting under infrastructure like bridges and buildings providing cover. Winters south to Panama. Early spring return migrant. 
  • Fun Fact: Namesake comes from frequently repeating an emphatic “Phoebe!” call. Nest resembles an open-top platform shelf with moss cladding made of mud fixed onto vertical human structures near feeding grounds. 

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus 

  • Features: Medium black and white tyrant flycatcher with black hood, dark gray mantle and underparts pierced by a triangular white throat badge. Black tail shows bold white outer tail feather tips. 
  • Locations: Summers breeding in pastures, hedgerows, orchards, grasslands and open country statewide before migrating each fall down to Amazonia for their winter vacation.  
  • Fun Fact: Aggressively defend nests against much larger intruder bird species like crows or hawks by repeatedly dive-bombing the threat while triggering loud distress calls soon amplified by neighboring birds mobbing together to drive dangers away through sheer irritation.   

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos

  • Features: Completely coal black passerine showing violet and blue iridescence apparent under direct sunlight. Broad fanlike rounded wings and squared tail adapt them well to suburban parklands rich with scavenging opportunities. Loud raucous cawing helps identify groups while dissuading intruders. 
  • Locations: Common to abundant statewide year-round from urban to most rural habitats containing groves with taller roost trees, woodlots and scattered woods. Undergoes seasonal movements perhaps related to food availability.  
  • Fun Fact: Highly inquisitive birds demonstrating remarkable memory, bluffing skills and ability to solve insightful tests loving peanuts almost as much as harassing red-tailed hawks. Care must be taken identifying rather similar Fish Crows frequenting coastal areas and now expanding inland along watercourses. 

Common/Northern Raven (Corvus corax)  

  • Features: This heavyweight corvid is Wisconsin’s largest perching bird (also called a passerine) with shiny blue-black feathers cloaking their thick necks and towering wedge-shaped bills. Flowing shaggy throat hackle feathers give ravens an unkempt style. In flight, broad diamond shaped tails steer this acrobatic flier adeptly between tall trees and cliff sides.   
  • Locations: Locally fairly common in suitable habitat including boreal and mixed forests of northern Wisconsin plus additional scattered locations statewide in rocky wilder terrain providing protected nest ledges paired with open surroundings hosting small vulnerable prey for their omnivorous appetites. 
  • Fun Fact: Highly opportunistic in diet. Mated pairs often remain together for life collaborating to chase predators away or mob dangerous prey while vocally recruiting other ravens to overwhelm adversaries. Part of the wider corvid family including crows, ravens are substantially heavier boasting bigger bills allowing them to pick at frozen carcasses plus tackle larger live victims subdued by working together.  

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  

  • Features: Deep snow country sparrows showing males with sooty gray hoods and tea-stained brown backs. Females display subtle tan and scaled gray patterns overall. Flash whitish outer tail feathers during bounding flights starting and landing. Fond of foraging on the ground.
  • Locations: Found statewide with expanding southern breeding ranges as climate shifts. Winter flocks foraging junco waves across snow-covered backyards sustain Wisconsin regulars sticking out the entire notoriously frigid season.  
  • Fun Fact: Voiced tails-up “pink” flight note helps identify these ground feeders scratching below thickets seeking seeds and insect eggs to survive cold nights. Will perch readily on opened hands eating seed.  

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)  

  • Features: Muscular grackle relatives displaying raven black bodies with bright yellow noggins and white wing patches. Male’s head odor allegedly smells lemony. Long conical bills equip them for catching insects too. Secretive nests wove into protected emergents above water. Forms large flocks traveling long distances.
  • Locations: Summers breeding around marshes and wet meadows across Wisconsin. Winters farther south to Mexico in massive nomadic columns foraging seeds and grain across open fields.  
  • Fun Fact: Males fiercely defend fertile females against competing suitors during breeding season. This medium-sized icterid bird once shot and eaten by early settlers favors wetlands supporting ample dragonflies and damselflies feeding hatchlings. 

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)   

  • Features: Male shows black underparts with creamy nape and stripes down the back. Female is plain brown-striped. Flashes white rump in flight. Travels in dense flocks. Male sings bubbling fluty notes midflight.
  • Locations: Nests in dense grasslands then collects in big migratory groups come fall bound for southern South America. 
  • Fun Fact: Males attract multiple mates with dazzling displays. Nest hidden on ground. Feeds on cultivated rice when wintering depredating crops.  

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)  

  • Features: Medium blackbird with red and yellow shoulder patches called epaulets. Female streaked brown. Fiercely defends breeding territory. Namesake male song sounds “konk-la-reee!” 
  • Locations: Common year-round in marshes, fields and roadsides statewide. Huge winter flocks assemble in wetlands. 
  • Fun Fact: Nests in protected sites with males aggressively defending eggs/nestlings from snakes to deer. Displays puffing plumage spreading colorful epaulets singing loudly.

Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)   

  • Features: Stocky blackbird with subtle sheen. Male’s namesake dark brown head and neck. Female gray with pale throat. Forages following grazing mammals. 
  • Locations: Found statewide in grasslands through suburbs. Notorious brood parasite favoring ground nesting songbirds raising cowbird chicks. 
  • Fun Fact: Females lay 3 dozen eggs across multiple host nests shirking parenting duties. Exploits forest fragmentation pressures destroying mature habitats. 

Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)  

  • Features: Medium blackbird with pale eyes. Male black plumage shows green gloss when fresh. Winter female blacker above with pale throat and eye line. White eyes stand out. 
  • Locations: Pass through breeding in boreal wetlands when migrating to southeast wintering areas. Found in wooded swamps and bottomlands during migration and winter across Wisconsin.  
  • Fun Fact: Melodic warbling spring male song mixes squeaky notes, whispers and bells. 85% population decline linked to boreal nesting habitat loss marks steep concerning drop.

Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus

  • Features: Medium-sized blackbird with yellow eyes. Male has glossy plumage with bluish-white eye and dull yellow bill base. Female is darker brown overall with slight streaks.  
  • Locations: Scattered during migration and winter across Wisconsin feeding in flocks on fields and roadsides. Breeds in loose groups on northern Great Plains into southern Canada. 
  • Fun Fact: Opportunistic feeder eating variety of insects, grains and seeds. Male displays by posturing and strutting with feather plumes erect.

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)  

  • Features: Very lanky crow-sized blackbird with extra long keel-shaped tail. Iridescent feathers shine bronze and purple in bright light. Pale eyes. Sexually dimorphic with smaller female brownish overall.  
  • Locations: Abundant year-round statewide occupying most open habitats with scattered trees like parks, marshes, suburbs, backyards and woodland gaps. Forms huge mobile winter flocks. 
  • Fun Fact: Opportunistic diet dominated by aquatic creatures, fruit, seeds and grain depending on seasonal availability. Constantly probes mud and grass with open bill to flush hiding morsels. 

Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia

  • Features: Tiny arboreal songbird wearing distinctly streaked black and white striped plumage. Constantly flicks tail walking branches probing crevices hunting insect eggs and larvae. Sings very high thin sharp buzzy “weesy-weesee-weesee” song. 
  • Locations: Summer breeding visitor in Wisconsin’s shady deciduous and mixed forests. Winters south through Panama.  
  • Fun Fact: Specialized raised hind toes enable vertical clinging and bark probing. Concealed nest on ground built of woven dead leaves and fern strips.

Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata)  

  • Features: Tiny warbler with black crown stripes framing white cheeks. Yellow spot by bill. Faint streaks on white underside. Prominent wingbars visible in constant motion. High thin buzzy trill song. Migrates astonishing distances for its size. 
  • Locations: Northern Wisconsin mature boreal forests serve as nesting habitat. Winters in northwestern South America after a lengthy nonstop transoceanic flight.
  • Fun Fact: One of latest spring migrant warblers. Fall migration sees flying up Atlantic coast then departing the Northeast for the Caribbean and South America consuming only stored body fat the entire 2000+ mile trek over open ocean.

Threats and Conservation 

Myriad issues impact black birds: 

  • Wetland drainage and shoreline development destroys essential habitats.  
  • Increasing predation threatens rare species. 
  • Pesticides reduce insect prey populations critical for breeding seasons when aerial feeders need ample supplies while raising nestlings.
  • Climate disruption throws off carefully timed migrations with serious impact on nesting success. 
  • Annual millions of bird deaths tallied from building window strikes during migrations emphasizing need for safer infrastructure regulations near protected refuge flyways and known collision hotspots.

Citizen Science and Stewardship

Public contributors provide valuable population monitoring and conservation data:

  • eBird/other database checklists show trends over time to direct policy based on real evidence. 
  • Breeding bird atlases map nest locations and shifting ranges signaling issues.
  • Banding reveals mortality factors and migration ecology for focal declining species.  
  • Nest boxes aid secondary cavity nesters like wood ducks with diminishing natural hollows from active forest management conflicting with wildlife habitat needs.
  • Interpretation awakens appreciation across generations to champion continued environmental actions preserving vulnerable species.

Conclusion

Wisconsin sustains over 400 bird species playing vital ecosystem roles from inland boreal forest to sweeping prairie and Great Lakes shorelines. Among beloved backyard visitors, the American Robin and Red-winged Blackbird familiarity spans generations. Meanwhile rare vagrants like Yellow-headed Blackbirds and outsized Common Ravens attract special attention from avid birders during narrow seasonal windows soon passing. This rich heritage remains threatened without thoughtful protections and conservation policy driving future landscape-level habitat quality keeping fragile populations secured for coming decades.