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9 Large Black Birds in Michigan

large black birds in michigan
Northern Raven in Chippewa, Michigan: Photo by Drew Weber

Introduction

Michigan’s diverse ecosystems offer a haven for a variety of avian species, including the striking large black birds that inhabit its woodlands, wetlands, and coastlines. These birds, with their dark plumage and impressive features, contribute to the state’s rich biodiversity. In this guide, we’ll explore some of the large black birds in Michigan, learning about their distinctive characteristics, behaviors, habitats, and the importance of conserving their populations.

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)

  • Features: The surf scoter is a robust sea duck, recognized by its glossy black plumage and striking white patches on its forehead and nape. Its stout bill is adapted for crushing the shells of mollusks, its primary food source.
  • Behavior: Surf scoters are proficient divers, plunging beneath the water’s surface to feed on mollusks, crustaceans, and small fish. They can often be seen foraging in groups, diving in unison in search of prey.
  • Habitat: During migration, surf scoters frequent Michigan’s Great Lakes, where they can be spotted along the coastline and offshore waters. They prefer open water habitats but may also utilize sheltered bays and estuaries.
  • Fun Fact: Surf scoters have specialized salt glands that allow them to excrete excess salt absorbed from seawater, enabling them to thrive in marine environments.

White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi)

  • Features: White-winged scoters are similar in appearance to surf scoters but have larger bodies and prominent white patches on their wings. Their bill is adapted for crushing hard-shelled prey.
  • Behavior: Like their counterparts, white-winged scoters are skilled divers, using their powerful feet to propel themselves underwater. They often dive to considerable depths in search of clams, mussels, and other bottom-dwelling organisms.
  • Habitat: Along Michigan’s Great Lakes shores, white-winged scoters can be observed foraging in nearshore waters and congregating in large flocks during migration. They may also utilize inland lakes and reservoirs during the winter months.
  • Fun Fact: White-winged scoters are known for their haunting, wolf-like calls, which echo across the water as they communicate with one another.

Black Scoter (Melanitta americana)

  • Features: The black scoter is the smallest of the scoter species, distinguished by its dark plumage and bright yellow knob at the base of its bill. Its bill is well-suited for prying open the shells of shellfish.
  • Behavior: Black scoters are primarily marine ducks, often forming rafts offshore and diving to depths of up to 40 feet in search of prey. They are strong swimmers and can remain submerged for extended periods.
  • Habitat: During migration and winter, black scoters can be found along Michigan’s Great Lakes coastline, where they feed on clams, mussels, and other benthic organisms. They may also venture into brackish coastal waters.
  • Fun Fact: Black scoters are strong fliers and can travel thousands of miles during migration, often traversing the breadth of the Great Lakes in search of suitable feeding grounds.

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

  • Features: The wild turkey is a large, ground-dwelling bird with dark iridescent plumage, a featherless head, and a distinctive fleshy wattle known as a snood. Adult males, known as toms, sport striking iridescent feathers and long, powerful legs.
  • Behavior: Wild turkeys are omnivores, consuming a varied diet that includes seeds, fruits, insects, and small vertebrates. They are primarily ground foragers, using their keen eyesight and acute hearing to detect potential threats.
  • Habitat: Across Michigan’s forests, fields, and agricultural lands, wild turkeys can be observed foraging for food and roosting in trees. They require a mix of open areas for feeding and dense cover for nesting and roosting.
  • Fun Fact: Wild turkeys have keen eyesight and can detect movement from great distances, making them wary and elusive prey for predators.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

  • Features: The double-crested cormorant is a sleek, black seabird with a long neck, hooked bill, and bright blue eyes. During breeding season, adults develop distinctive white tufts of feathers on either side of their head.
  • Behavior: Cormorants are skilled divers, using their webbed feet to propel themselves underwater in pursuit of fish. They are social birds, often seen foraging and roosting in large colonies.
  • Habitat: Along Michigan’s coastlines and inland waterways, double-crested cormorants can be observed perched on rocks, buoys, and other structures or flying low over the water’s surface. They prefer areas with abundant fish populations.
  • Fun Fact: Double-crested cormorants lack waterproof feathers, which allows them to dive deeper and swim more efficiently underwater.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

  • Features: The turkey vulture is a large scavenging bird with dark plumage, a featherless red head, and a distinctive V-shaped wing posture in flight. Its keen sense of smell helps it locate carrion from great distances.
  • Behavior: Turkey vultures are carrion feeders, using their keen sense of smell to locate decaying animal carcasses from great distances. They are often seen soaring on thermals, scanning the landscape for potential food sources.
  • Habitat: Throughout Michigan’s open landscapes, including forests, fields, and highways, turkey vultures can be seen roosting in trees or soaring overhead. They are commonly associated with areas of abundant roadkill and other carrion.
  • Fun Fact: Turkey vultures engage in a behavior known as “sunbathing,” where they spread their wings wide and expose them to the sun’s rays to help regulate their body temperature.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

  • Features: The pileated woodpecker is the largest woodpecker species in Michigan, with distinctive black plumage, a vibrant red crest, and a powerful bill. Its loud, hammering drumming can be heard echoing through the forest.
  • Behavior: Pileated woodpeckers are adept foragers, using their long, chisel-like bills to excavate cavities in search of insects and sap. They are also skilled climbers, using their strong feet and tail for support.
  • Habitat: Across Michigan’s forests and woodlands, pileated woodpeckers can be observed drumming on trees or flying gracefully through the canopy. They require large tracts of mature forest with ample dead wood for foraging and nesting.
  • Fun Fact: Pileated woodpeckers play a crucial role in forest ecosystems by creating cavities that serve as nesting sites for other birds and shelter for a variety of wildlife.

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

  • Features: The American crow is a familiar sight in Michigan, with glossy black plumage, a sturdy bill, and remarkable intelligence. Its loud cawing calls are often heard as it communicates with other crows.
  • Behavior: Crows are highly adaptable birds, exhibiting complex social behaviors and using tools to obtain food. They are opportunistic feeders, consuming a wide range of plant and animal matter.
  • Habitat: From urban parks to rural farmlands, American crows can be found roosting in trees or foraging for food in a variety of habitats. They are often seen scavenging for scraps and exploring novel food sources.
  • Fun Fact: American crows are known for their playful antics, including aerial acrobatics, vocal mimicry, and elaborate communal roosting behaviors.

Northern Raven (Corvus corax)

  • Features: The northern raven is a large, entirely black bird with a thick neck and wedge-shaped tail. It has a robust, curved bill and shaggy throat feathers.
  • Behavior: Northern ravens are highly intelligent birds known for their problem-solving abilities and complex social behaviors. They are opportunistic feeders, scavenging on carrion, small mammals, insects, eggs, and plant matter. Ravens are also skilled vocalizers, with a wide range of calls and vocalizations used for communication within their social groups.
  • Habitat: Northern ravens inhabit a variety of habitats, including forests, tundra, coastal cliffs, and urban areas. They are often found in rugged, remote landscapes but have adapted well to human-altered environments.
  • Fun Fact: Northern ravens are known for their playful behavior, often engaging in aerial acrobatics, barrel rolls, and mid-air games with other ravens. These playful antics are believed to help strengthen social bonds within their groups.

Threats and Conservation

Michigan’s large black birds face various threats, including habitat loss, pollution, climate change, and collisions with vehicles and structures. Conservation efforts aimed at protecting wetlands, forests, and other essential habitats are crucial for safeguarding these species. Additionally, raising awareness about the importance of coexisting with wildlife and mitigating human-wildlife conflicts can help reduce negative interactions and promote the long-term conservation of Michigan’s avian diversity.

Citizen Science

Michigan residents can contribute to the conservation of large black birds through citizen science initiatives like eBird. By recording bird sightings, participating in bird counts, and monitoring habitat quality, individuals can help scientists better understand population trends and inform conservation strategies to protect these magnificent birds for future generations.

Conclusion

Michigan’s large black birds, from the surf scoter to the northern raven, are integral to the state’s ecosystems. However, they face threats such as habitat loss and pollution. Through conservation efforts and citizen science initiatives like eBird, we can protect these species and their habitats for future generations. Together, we can ensure a brighter future for Michigan’s avian treasures.