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30 Black Birds in Massachusetts

black birds in Massachusetts
Rusty Blackbird in Norfolk, Massachusetts: Photo by Evan Lipton

Introduction

From shorebirds strolling along beaches to songbirds flitting through forests, black birds in Massachusetts come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The Bay State’s varied ecosystems attract a remarkable array of avian jewels decked out in inky black, coal, and ebony plumages. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most beautiful black birds found in the state.

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)

  • Features: This stocky seaduck has bold white patches on the forehead and cheeks that stand out against otherwise all-black plumage on males. Females are brownish overall with more muted white facial markings. Their bill is bulky with colorful patterns. They float low on the water and dive for mollusks and crustaceans.
  • Locations: Coastal waters, bays, and estuaries along the Massachusetts coast. 
  • Fun Fact: They breed in the far north and migrate along the Atlantic coast in large rafts or “scoter flocks”.

White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi)

  • Features: The male white-winged scoter has entirely black body plumage except for two crescent-shaped white patches visible on the wings. Females are brownish overall with more dull white wing patches. Their bill is rounded and multi-colored.
  • Locations: Coastal marine habitats along the Massachusetts shoreline. Seen offshore and in bays.
  • Fun Fact: The male’s courtship call is a unique shrill whistling followed by a frog-like croak.

Black Scoter (Melanitta americana)

  • Features: This stocky dark seaduck has very dark blackish-brown plumage on the males and slightly lighter brown females. Their bulging bill has colorful yellow, orange, and black markings. They float low on the ocean waves when feeding.
  • Locations: Coastal waters during migration and winter along Massachusetts shore.
  • Fun Fact: Breeds along remote northern lakes and winters along northeastern U.S. coast. 

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo

  • Features: This easily recognizable large, long-legged bird has mostly metallic blackish feathers with brown barring throughout its plumage. It has a featherless red and blue head that can change color based on mood. 
  • Locations: Forests and open fields across Massachusetts. 
  • Fun Fact: Male turkeys perform an elaborate strutting courtship display, puffing out plumage, fanning the tail, and emitting gobbles.

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)

  • Features: This small waterbird has drab grayish-brown plumage and a thick, chicken-like yellow bill with a dark band. Its flattened head profile and short neck give it a chunky profile on the water. 
  • Locations: Ponds, marshes, and lakes across Massachusetts.
  • Fun Fact: A secretive bird that can disappear from view by sinking straight down under the water without making a ripple.

Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)

  • Features: This water bird has a small, thin black bill and black cap that contrasts with its reddish-brown neck. Breeding adults have golden feather tufts on their heads. They dive to catch small fish and swim low on the water.
  • Locations: Winters on coastal Massachusetts waters, seen on lakes and ponds during migration.
  • Fun Fact: Can run across the water’s surface for short distances to take off from land or escape predators.

Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena

  • Features: This grebe has a gray body, darker gray cap, and rusty red throat that extends down to the upper breast. Its bill is long, thin and dagger-like. It is an excellent swimmer and diver when foraging.
  • Locations: Winters along the Massachusetts coast, passes through during migrations on inland lakes.
  • Fun Fact: Sometimes swallows its own feathers – an unusual behavior thought to protect its digestive system from sharp fish bones.

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)

  • Features: This cigar-shaped bird is a silhouette in flight – dark overall with a slightly paler throat. Its wings are long and slender with a stiff, shallow flapping motion. It has tiny feet and cling to vertical surfaces.
  • Locations: Often seen foraging over fields, rivers, and towns across Massachusetts. They nest and roost communally in chimneys.
  • Fun Fact: They are aerial insectivores, catching flies and mosquitoes on the wing as they continuously fly.

American Coot (Fulica americana)

  • Features: This duck-like waterbird has a plump, chicken-like profile with a black head and body and white bill and forehead shield. Their feet have lobed toes for swimming and are dark gray to blackish. 
  • Locations: Ponds, lakes, and protected wetlands across Massachusetts.
  • Fun Fact: Often seen steadily swimming and feeding along dense aquatic vegetation near shore. Known for occasional long migratory flights at night.

American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus

  • Features: This large, striking shorebird has a long, thick orange bill used for prying open oysters. Its head, neck, back, and wings are black and brown, while its breast and undersides are white. Its eyes are yellow-orange.
  • Locations: Coastal beaches and salt marshes along the Massachusetts shoreline.
  • Fun Fact: Its loud, piping calls can be heard from long distances as they patrol the shoreline.

Great Skua (Stercorarius skua)

  • Features: A large predatory seabird with brownish-black plumage and white flashes on the back wings and tail. They have a heavy chest and shoulders with a thick gull-like bill with a hooked tip. 
  • Locations: Rarely seen offshore during late summer and fall migration in Massachusetts. 
  • Fun Fact: An aggressive species that feeds by stealing fish from other seabirds. Will also eat eggs, small mammals and carrion.

South Polar Skua (Stercorarius maccormicki)

  • Features: This large seabird has dark chestnut brown plumage with paler underwings and undersides. The central tail feathers are twisted. Their heavy bill has a hooked tip for grasping prey.
  • Locations: Rare offshore sightings during summer and fall migrations off the Massachusetts coast.
  • Fun Fact: This species breeds in Antarctica and travels incredible distances northward in the non-breeding season.

Pomarine Jaeger (Stercorarius pomarinus

  • Features: A dark sooty brown jaeger with a thickset body and stout bill with a hooked tip. White wing flashes are visible on the underside of the primaries in flight. The two central tail feathers twist and trail behind. 
  • Locations: Seen offshore during migrations off the Massachusetts coast, especially during storms.
  • Fun Fact: Jaegers harass other seabirds until they regurgitate food, which they then skillfully catch in mid-air. 

Parasitic Jaeger (Stercorarius parasiticus)

  • Features: This jaeger has dark brown plumage with a cap and collar paler than the back. The central tail feathers are elongated and twist. Yellow patches at the base of the bill are present in juveniles. 
  • Locations: Observed on migration offshore of Massachusetts.
  • Fun Fact: Like other jaegers, this species is a kleptoparasite – it steals food from other seabirds in dramatic aerial chases.

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo

  • Features: A large black waterbird with a long neck, orange-yellow face, and hooked bill. It has a small head crest and orange throat pouch. The back and wing feathers have a bronzy sheen. 
  • Locations: Seen along the Massachusetts coast, especially around rocky islands and breakwaters. 
  • Fun Fact: An excellent swimmer and diver, propelling underwater with its feet while pursuing fish. Often seen perching with wings spread to dry.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

  • Features: This large aquatic bird is black with a small yellow throat pouch. It has an orange face patch and blue-green eye ring. Breeding adults have double tiny head tufts or crests. Its bill is thick and hooked.
  • Locations: Coastal areas and inland waters across Massachusetts. 
  • Fun Fact: After diving for fish, cormorants often stand on rocks or docks with wings outstretched to dry their waterlogged feathers.

Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)

  • Features: A large black vulture with grayish undersides and black wings with white tips. Their heads are gray-black and mostly bald. Their beak is short and stout.
  • Locations: Increasingly common across Massachusetts, especially along major river ways.
  • Fun Fact: Lacks a strong sense of smell and finds carrion visually rather than by odor like Turkey Vultures.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

  • Features: This vulture is dark brown-black overall with lighter undersides and a featherless red head. The wings are two-toned in flight showing pale flight feathers. The bill is ivory colored.
  • Locations: Common across Massachusetts soaring over open areas.
  • Fun Fact: Their incredible sense of smell allows them to find rotting carcasses from great distances away.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus

  • Features: This crow-sized woodpecker is mostly black with a bright red crest, black forehead, white stripes on the face and neck, and white underwings visible in flight. It has a long, chisel-like pointed bill.
  • Locations: Mature forested areas across Massachusetts.
  • Fun Fact: Makes rectangular excavations in dead trees when foraging for carpenter ants, which are its primary food source.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

  • Features: This large, powerful falcon has steely blue-gray upperparts and a barred black and white underside. They have long, pointed wings and can reach speeds up to 200 mph in a hunting stoop or dive. Their eyes and beak are black.
  • Locations: Found near cliffs, cities, and shorelines across Massachusetts. Often nest on tall buildings.
  • Fun Fact: After near extinction from DDT poisoning, Peregrine Falcons have rebounded thanks to conservation efforts.

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus

  • Features: This medium-sized songbird has a black head, back, and tail contrasting with a white throat and underparts. Their red crown patch is often concealed. Their wings are black with white bands when open.
  • Locations: Fields, meadows, and open habitats across Massachusetts. 
  • Fun Fact: Aggressively defends nests, even mobbing much larger birds and animals that enter their breeding territory. 

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

  • Features: An all-black corvid with a square tail and heavy straight bill. It has glossy black plumage across its body, wings, and tail. Soars and glides in flight.
  • Locations: Common across Massachusetts in both rural and urban areas.
  • Fun Fact: Highly intelligent and social birds that congregate in large winter flocks at night. Their calls can convey different meanings.

Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus

  • Features: A small, stocky crow with glossy black plumage like the American crow. Its square-shaped tail is distinctive in flight. Its voice is raspy, lacking the strong “caw” sound of an American crow.
  • Locations: Coastal areas and rivers across Massachusetts.
  • Fun Fact: Feeds largely on aquatic prey like fish, crabs, and other marine invertebrates. 

Northern Raven (Corvus corax)

  • Features: A larger, heftier corvid compared to crows. It is all black including its thick neck, shaggy throat feathers, and wedge-shaped tail. Its call is a deep, croaking “tok”. 
  • Locations: Found across Massachusetts, especially in wooded and mountain areas away from human disturbance.
  • Fun Fact: A highly intelligent species, ravens are known for aerial acrobatics and complex social behaviors. They mate for life.

Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus

  • Features: These large sparrows have colorful black, white and rufous plumage. Their backs are black with rufous sides, long dark tails, and white bellies. They have thick cone-shaped beaks.
  • Locations: Backyards, thickets, and brushy areas across Massachusetts. 
  • Fun Fact: They leap backward forcefully with both feet to expose leaf litter when searching for food on the forest floor.

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

  • Features: This medium-sized songbird has jet black plumage except for red shoulder patches edged in pale yellow. Females are streaked black and brown. Their bill is conical.
  • Locations: Marshes, fields, and wetlands across Massachusetts.
  • Fun Fact: Males defend breeding territories with threat displays, exposing their red shoulder patches. Their song is a throaty “konk-ka-reee!”

Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)

  • Features: The male is glossy black with a brown head. Females are grayish-brown with a pale throat. Their bill is thick and finch-like for cracking seeds. 
  • Locations: Fields, meadows, feedlots, and backyards across Massachusetts.
  • Fun Fact: A brood parasite, females lay eggs in other songbirds’ nests for raising. The young cowbird pushes out host eggs.

Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)

  • Features: Medium-sized songbird with black plumage showing a greenish sheen. In good light, rusty feather edges become visible, especially on the tertials. The bill is flattened and tapered.
  • Locations: Wooded wetlands and river bottoms during migration through Massachusetts.
  • Fun Fact: Population has declined sharply in recent decades, possibly due to habitat loss on the wintering grounds.

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

  • Features: This long-tailed blackbird has glossy iridescent black plumage and a long keel-shaped tail. Males have more vibrant coloring than females. Their eyes are pale yellow. 
  • Locations: Marshes, fields, forests, and urban parks across Massachusetts. 
  • Fun Fact: Forages on the ground in large nomadic flocks, sometimes mixed with other blackbird species.

Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia)

  • Features: This small songbird is patterned with bold black and white stripes on the face, throat, breast, and back. Its bill is slender and pointed. The legs are pinkish.
  • Locations: Mature deciduous and mixed forests across Massachusetts.
  • Fun Fact: Forages by creeping along branches, unlike most warblers. Its song resembles a squeaky wheel.

Threats and Conservation

The black birds in Massachusetts face an array of threats from human activity and environmental changes. Coastal development destroys nesting and foraging habitat for seabirds and shorebirds. Deforestation impacts forest-dwelling birds like crows and vireos. Pesticides and insect population declines can reduce food sources. Collisions with buildings and vehicles also take a toll during migrations. 

Conserving habitats through parks and refuges provides sanctuary for black birds. Managing artificial night lighting near seabird colonies and during migration can reduce fatal collisions. Public education and enforcing speed limits over key migration routes helps protect birds. Careful use of pesticides and leaving snags and leaf litter benefits insect-eating species. With proactive conservation measures, healthy black bird populations can be maintained.

Conclusion

The remarkable variety of black birds in Massachusetts represent a valued part of the state’s natural heritage. From surf scoters gathering off Cape Cod to red-winged blackbirds nesting in urban wetlands, these species contribute to biodiversity across diverse ecosystems. Protecting habitats, reducing collisions, and minimizing pesticide impacts through thoughtful conservation practices can help ensure future generations can continue appreciating Massachusetts’ beautiful black birds.