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15 Large Black Birds in Massachusetts

large black birds in Massachusetts
Turkey Vulture in Suffolk, Massachusetts: Photo by Evan Lipton

Introduction

With wingspans that can reach over five feet wide and powerful bills of varying shapes for different feeding strategies, these large black birds in Massachusetts define the state’s landscapes. The coastlines, marshes, and forests provide habitat for an array of large black birds in Massachusetts. Read on to learn more about some of the most impressive large black birds in Massachusetts that call the Bay State home or stopover on migrations.

Due to their substantial sizes, these larger bird species exhibit behaviors and capabilities that smaller birds do not. Their sheer mass enables them to dive from great heights into water to catch fish. Large powerful wings allow them to soar for hours without flapping on thermals. Plus their intimidating stature helps large birds like ravens and jaegers aggressively steal food from smaller seabirds.

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata) – Wingspan: 30 in, Length: 21 in, Weight: 2.5 lbs

  • Features: This stocky seaduck has a bulky body and thick neck. Males are entirely black except for prominent white facial patches. Females are dark brown. Their oversized multi-colored bill stands out.
  • Locations: Coastal waters, bays, and estuaries along the Massachusetts coast.
  • Fun Fact: They form massive flocks or “scoter rafts” offshore during winter.

White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi) – WS: 28 in, L: 21 in, W: 2.5 lbs 

  • Features: This large seaduck has bold white wing patches contrasting with all-black males and brownish females. Their bulky two-toned bill is very noticeable.
  • Locations: Coastal marine habitats along Massachusetts. Seen offshore and in bays.
  • Fun Fact: The male’s unique courtship call sounds like a shrill whistle followed by a froggy croak.

Black Scoter (Melanitta americana) – WS: 26 in, L: 19 in, W: 2 lbs

  • Features: This bulky, thick-necked seaduck has black males and brownish females. Their heavily ridged bill has colorful yellow, orange, and black markings.
  • Locations: Coastal waters during migration and winter along the Massachusetts shore.
  • Fun Fact: They winter along the northeastern U.S. coast and fly incredible distances to subarctic breeding lakes.

Great Skua (Stercorarius skua) – WS: 55 in, L: 25 in, W: 4 lbs 

  • Features: A very large seabird with brownish-black plumage and heavy, shoulders and chest. Their thick gull-like bill has a large 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. 

South Polar Skua (Stercorarius maccormicki) – WS: 48 in, L: 21 in, W: 2.2 lbs

  • Features: This giant seabird has dark chestnut brown plumage with massive wings. The central tail feathers are elongated and twisted.
  • Locations: Rare offshore sightings during summer and fall migrations off Massachusetts. 
  • Fun Fact: Breeds in Antarctica and migrates incredible distances northward.

Pomarine Jaeger (Stercorarius pomarinus) – WS: 47 in, L: 23 in, W: 2.2 lbs

  • Features: This giant jaeger has a stocky body and thickset wings. Its plumage is dark sooty brown with a black cap and pale yellow neck streaking. White markings underneath the wings show in flight. The two elongated central tail feathers trail behind the short outer feathers.
  • 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) – WS: 46 in, L: 19 in, W: 1.25 lbs

  • Features: This sizable jaeger has pointed wings and a streamlined body. Plumage is dark brown with a cap and collar noticeably paler than the back. The central tail feathers are elongated and twist in flight. Juveniles have distinctive yellow patches at the base of the bill.
  • Locations: Observed offshore during migrations off Massachusetts.
  • Fun Fact: Like other jaegers, this species steals food from other seabirds in dramatic aerial chases.

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) – WS: 48 in, L: 36 in, W: 5.5 lbs

  • Features: This very large waterbird has glossy black plumage and a thick neck. It has a small head crest and bright orange facial skin. The massive bill has a sharply hooked tip. In flight, its broad wings show 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 in pursuit of fish. 

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) – WS: 40 in, L: 33 in, W: 5 lbs 

  • Features: This big aquatic bird has black plumage with a small yellow throat pouch. It has striking turquoise-blue eye rings. The large size and thick hooked bill are ideal for catching fish.
  • Locations: Coastal areas and inland waters across Massachusetts.
  • Fun Fact: Often seen standing with its wings outstretched to dry after fishing dives.

Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) – WS: 5.5 ft, L: 26 in, W: 4 lbs

  • Features: A large vulture with broad wings ideal for soaring effortlessly on thermals. The mostly bald head and neck have grayish skin. The plumage is black overall with gray undertail coverts and white wingtips. The stout, thick bill is well-adapted for tearing carrion. 
  • Locations: Increasingly common across Massachusetts, especially along major riverways.
  • Fun Fact: Lacks the keen sense of smell that turkey vultures use to find carcasses. Instead locates food visually.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) – WS: 6 ft, L: 27 in, W: 4.5 lbs

  • Features: This huge vulture has a featherless red head and powerful wings that can stay aloft for hours without flapping. The brownish-black plumage has lighter undersides. The nostrils have a large surface area for enhanced smell to find rotting carcasses. 
  • Locations: Common across Massachusetts skies, circling over open areas on the lookout for carrion. 
  • Fun Fact: Their incredible sense of smell allows them to detect dead animals from great distances.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) – WS: 40 in, L: 18 in, W: 2 lbs

  • Features: This large powerful falcon has broad pointed wings adapted for speed. Bluish-gray upperparts contrast with barred black and white undersides. The black hood with sideburns and yellow cere gives it a fierce look.
  • Locations: Found near cliffs, cities, and shorelines across Massachusetts. Often nests on tall buildings. 
  • Fun Fact: After near extinction from pesticides, peregrine falcon numbers rebounded thanks to conservation efforts. 

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) – L: 17.5 in, WS: 33.5 in, W: 11.2 oz

  • Features: An all-black corvid with a thick neck and heavy straight bill that is adept at cracking hard seeds and nuts. Broad wings and a square-shaped tail are visible in flight. Soars and glides often. The largest all-black songbird in North America.  
  • 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 various calls communicate different meanings.

Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus) – L: 19 in, WS: 33 in, W: 11 oz 

  • Features: A stocky, medium-sized crow with glossy black plumage like the American crow. Its square-shaped tail and smaller size help distinguish it in flight. The thick conical bill is used to eat a varied diet including aquatic prey. 
  • Locations: Coastal areas and rivers across Massachusetts.
  • Fun Fact: Feeds largely on fish, crabs, mussels and other marine invertebrates. 

Northern Raven (Corvus corax) – L: 25 in, WS: 45-50 in, W: 2.5 lbs 

  • Features: A giant corvid with dense shaggy throat feathers giving an unkempt appearance. The massive wedge-shaped tail and thick neck are distinctive. Soars on broad fingered wings. Intimidating size allows it to dominate other birds.
  • Locations: Found across Massachusetts, especially in remote wooded and mountain areas. 
  • Fun Fact: One of the most intelligent bird species, known for aerial acrobatics and complex social behaviors. They mate for life.

How Large Birds Fly

The sheer size and wing area of the large black birds in Massachusetts like jaegers, vultures, and ravens enables them to utilize different flight patterns than smaller birds. Their wings have higher lift-to-drag ratios, allowing them to be more efficient and glide long distances without flapping. Smaller birds must flap constantly to stay aloft. Large birds also take advantage of updrafts and wind currents, smoothly soaring for hours without exertion. Their greater body mass stores more energy for long flights. Large powerful wings also allow for dynamic aerial maneuvers like the hunting stoops of peregrine falcons. Overall, size provides large birds expanded flight capabilities, an adaptation you can observe in the large black birds in Massachusetts.

Conclusion

Massachusetts provides essential habitat for an impressive diversity of large, iconic black colored birds, from seaducks that traverse the entire continent to resilient vultures soaring over cities. Ensuring healthy ecosystems through thoughtful conservation practices will help these avian giants continue thriving in the Bay State for generations to come.