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9 Small Black Birds in Texas

small black birds in texas
Black Phoebe in Big Bend NP, Texas: Photo by Bryan Calk

Introduction

Spanning sweeping pine forests, arid desert scrublands and flooded bayou marshes, Texas sustains immense bird diversity. Over 650 wild species capitalize on variegated habitats statewide, including little black birds occupying essential ecological niches from fluttering chimney swifts hawking flying insects to Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers drilling sap wells through bark. This article explores some dashing small black birds spotting Texas skies.

Small Black Birds in Texas  

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)

  • Features: Cigar-shaped silhouette suits these aerial acrobats ceaselessly snatching insects midflight upon long bowed wings. Tiny feet with sharp claws cling vertically when roosting inside chimneys and hollow trees.  
  • Locations: Still fairly widespread in rural and urban chimneys during breeding season across Texas while navigating thousands of miles when migrating between Midwest nesting grounds and Peruvian wintering roosts. 
  • Fun Fact: Scarce perching adaptations lead an energetic existence spent almost entirely airborne. Rest by clinging vertically inside chimneys or tree cavities using sharp tiny talons when not energetically feeding.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

  • Features: Black and white mottled woodpecker pattern with bold red crown and throat on males. Subtle yellow wash visible on folded underwing feathers.
  • Locations: Found in mature open forests and orchards when migrating through Texas between Appalachian or boreal breeding woods farther north and southern wintering regions all the way south into Panama.  
  • Fun Fact: Drills orderly sap wells into trees while feeding on sweet inner bark cambium. These holes later leak tasty sap attracting insects the sapsucker conveniently snacks on when returning to feed more!

Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)

  • Features: Males show bold red patch behind bill on an otherwise black and white barred diminutive woodpecker wearing a dark cowl. Bright white stripes frame the face. Female lacks vibrant red but shares similar plumage patterns on a miniature canvas.
  • Locations: Found year-round in central and eastern Texas through wooded parks, orchards, riparian areas and oak forests hosting standing dead trees filled with tasty insects. Opportunistically visits suet feeders.
  • Fun Fact: Male assists brooding female on nest incubating eggs while also defending cavities from competitive squirrels and other birds seeking safe shelter, fiercely confronting intruders despite small size. Parents take turns feeding noisy chicks once hatched.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Dryobates scalaris)  

  • Features: Sparrow-sized woodpecker with strong pointed bill and barred black-and-white pattern. Red crown and nape on males. Overall more slender build than lookalike Downy.
  • Locations: Found year-round in arid pine and oak woodlands of eastern Texas. Requires standing dead trees and flowering agaves. More heat tolerant than Downy kin.  
  • Fun Fact: Uses strong sharp bill to drill holes in towering cactus stalks accessing nutritious sugary pulp inside. This adaptation allows survival in harsh desert climates too extreme for many other woodpeckers.

Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi)  

  • Features: Lanky tyrant flycatcher with sharply contrasting olive gray upperparts and white underside from throat to belly. Prominent white tufts flash in darker wings during flight. 
  • Locations: Seen during spring and fall migrations when they rest in tall trees along forest openings to replenish fuel before remarkably lengthy migrations between boreal nesting forests and Andean wintering grounds covering over 5,000 miles annually.  
  • Fun Fact: Launches out from high exposed perch tips to snatch insects buzzing over meadows and ponds below. Their loud “quick THREE BEERS” call carries far over breeding ranges in Canada.

Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens)   

  • Features: Drab grayish olive flycatcher with slight wing bars visible when hawk insects from dark perch tips before returning while uttering signature somber “preeh” songs. Sullen expression until snapping up flying insects.
  • Locations: Summer breeding migrant found across eastern Texas in deciduous broadleaf forests before returning to overwinter in Panama. Nest is a lichen covered platform secured to tree bark by spider silk perfectly camouflaging incubating pairs from prying eyes.  
  • Fun Fact: Hunts flying insects snatched in jaws midair after short sweeping sallies from high exposed perches along the forest edge. Migrates over 2,800 lengthy miles biannually following pathways presumably burnished into internal orientation genetics guaranteeing route accuracy. 

Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus)  

  • Features: Lookalike western version of the preceding species shares drab olive upperparts and lighter underside with faint dusky streaks across the breast. Darker grayish wings show prominent bright wingbars. Song differs slightly carrying a more upbeat tempo. 
  • Locations: Summers breeding in west Texas plains and foothills habitat including dry open woods of ponderosa pine and juniper where it sallies catching insects often returning the same exposed perches. Winters along the Pacific coast south into Central America.  
  • Fun Fact: Males frequently practice chasing skills by catching smaller insects only to release them again unharmed, presumably honing midair dexterity for demanding tropical migrations and parenting duties provisioning mates and offspring. 

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)   

  • Features: Medium flycatching bird with black head, clean white throat and contrasting gray-brown wings over pale yellow belly. Constantly fans tail and pumps it downward when perched upright. 
  • Locations: Found wintering across central and eastern Texas after breeding farther northeast into Canada. Often nests under infrastructure like bridges and buildings providing cover near ample flying insect prey. 
  • Fun Fact: Namesake comes from frequently repeating an emphatic “Phoebe!” call announcing presence. Nest resembles an open-top muddy shelf constructed onto vertical human structures near ideal habitat.

Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)

  • Features: Another flycatching bird with dark gray hood, breast and upperparts contrasting a crisp white throat and belly. Often fans and pumps tail when perched. Larger than Eastern Phoebe.  
  • Locations: Found year-round in west Texas near cliff bands, rock piles, or open buildings close to running water attracting insect prey. Winters farther south along the Rio Grande into Mexico after breeding. 
  • Fun Fact: Male and females often mate for life, sharing nest-building and feeding duties. Sturdy nests placed on vertical rock faces under overhangs or building ceilings to avoid flooding in stormy weather and deter nest predators.

Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)

  • Features: Stocky blackbird with subtle glossy sheens on body showing slight violet hints near wings and tail. Namesake light brown head coloration on males. Females nondescript gray-brown lacking distinctive hood. Short seed-cracking bill.
  • Locations: Found year-round across Texas fields, pastures and grasslands. Notorious obligate brood parasite favoring ground nesting songbird hosts duped into raising young cowbirds.
  • Fun Fact: Females monitor potential host nest activity to discreetly lay single eggs camouflaging into existing clutches. Cowbird hatchlings then often outcompete host nestmates using aggression to garner more feeding attention necessary to fledging first.

Bronzed Cowbird (Molothrus aeneus)   

  • Features: Glossy black male with slight violet sheen across back and wings in sunlight. Female slightly smaller with dull gray-brown plumage and pale bill. Red eyes on both. Will flock closely with the larger Brown-headed Cowbird roving plains and pastures seeking grazing animals stirring insects.  
  • Locations: Found year-round in chaparral brushlands of far south and southwest Texas and adjacent Mexico often following livestock herds trailed by opportunistic grackles, cowbirds and sparrows exploiting kicked flush of grasshoppers and other insects. 
  • Fun Fact: Like the notorious Brown-headed Cowbird, they lay eggs in nests of other small birds to be raised by hosts. Sneaky males may damage eggs in victim nests making their single cowbird egg accepted instead. 

Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)  

  • Features: Medium blackbird with pale yellow eyes that in bright sunlight exhibit a subtle rusty iridescence inspiring the colloquial name. Winter female blacker above with lighter throat and eyeline. White eye coloration stands out except during heaviest molting. 
  • Locations: Seen chiefly during spring and fall migrations exploitation seasonal abundance. Found in wooded swamps and along southward bound waterways in transit between boreal breeding habitats and southeastern wintering regions.
  • Fun Fact: Melodic warbling male songs incorporate squeaky notes, whispers and bells carried from high perches across their remote nesting forests and southbound migration pathways. Unfortunately, this species exhibits one of the steepest population declines across North America estimated over 85% disappearing since the 1970s linked to dramatic boreal wetland losses up north.

Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)  

  • Features: Medium-sized blackbird with pale eyes and purple iridescent head showings hints of bright blue. Scattered white spotting along wings only visible during flight. Stout seed-cracking bill.   
  • Locations: Gregarious flocks very locally distributed in brushlands year-round or during winter foraging migrations. Nests semi-colonially along wetland margins with taller vegetation providing shelter in northern prairie states and southcentral Canada.  
  • Fun Fact: Males attempt attracting females onto breeding grounds by posturing, puffing sleek black chest feathers, then hopping about strutting arrogantly with fanned tails. Diet includes insects plus grains and seeds.

Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia)   

  • Features: Tiny bird flashing stark black and white striped plumage creeping along bark probing crevices for spiders and insect larvae. Constantly flicks long tail aiding balance during intricate maneuvers. Thin sharp bill extracts morsels.
  • Locations: Migrates long distances between northern U.S. and Canadian nesting woodlands across the tropics to northern South America for winters. Found in Texas during travel periods along migration routes mostly April-May and September-October.  
  • Fun Fact: Forages unlike most other warblers, moving like nuthatches up, down and sideways along arboreal trunks and branches using raised hind-toe adaptation to cling vertically probing for prey.

Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata)   

  • Features: Tiny charcoal gray warbler with bold white cheek flashes and faint narrow dark crown stripes. Fans tail constantly when manically chasing irritants on breeding grounds then during spring and fall migration passages across Texas between Arctic Circle breeding forests and Latin America wintering grounds covering astonishing distances relative towards their minute body sizes making these global marathon champion migrators. 
  • Locations: Occurs only briefly during migrations including along upper Texas coastlines before astounding lengthy transoceanic flight treks requiring intricate fuel conservation and navigation capacities honed from birth towards surviving the immense challenges spanning remote boreal nest locations all the down to distant neotropical rainforest winter habitats.  
  • Fun Fact: Weighing barely over half an ounce yet traversing thousands of miles nonstop over Atlantic and Gulf waters to wintering grounds in northern South America after fledging young from Alaskan and Canadian tundra nests. Their migrations remain among the lengthiest relative to body sizes found anywhere in the animal kingdom. 

Citizen Science Empowers Knowledge

Volunteer contributions expand collective comprehension about bird populations requiring conservation interventions:

  • eBird and other shared public sightings datasets inform prioritization
  • Nest boxes in appropriate habitats aid breeding for cavity nesters  
  • Rescue and rehabilitation fixes otherwise doomed animals     

Conclusion 

Championing responsible environmental protections depends greatly upon Texas’ ecological heritage transcending passing moments marveling at coastal sandpiper waves shimmering along Padre Island National Seashore while appreciating fragile existence cycles found everywhere.