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33 Black Birds in Washington State

black birds in washington state
Northern Raven (left) and American Crow in Whatcom, Washington: Photo by Jefferson Ashby

Introduction

Nestled in the Pacific Northwest, Washington State boasts a diverse ecosystem that attracts bird enthusiasts from around the globe. Among its avian inhabitants, the black birds stand out, painting silhouettes against the sky, and echoing their calls amidst the vast landscapes. Join us as we journey through the lives, habitats, and mysteries of over thirty of the black birds in Washington State.

Black Birds in Washington State

Black Scoter (Melanitta americana)

  • Features: This sea duck is mostly black with a distinctive yellow knob on its bill.
  • Locations: Coastal waters during migration and winter, often around the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
  • Fun Fact: They have a preference for mollusks, diving to catch them from the ocean floor.

White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi)

  • Features: Predominantly black with white patches on their wings and a white eye comma, distinguishing them from other scoters.
  • Locations: Marine habitats along the Washington coast, especially during non-breeding seasons.
  • Fun Fact: They are the largest of the three North American scoter species.

Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)

  • Features: With a black body, the male has a distinctive multi-colored head with a white patch on the back of its neck, while females are plainer brown.
  • Locations: Coastal regions of Washington, especially prominent in areas like Grays Harbor.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their sea-bound nature, they breed in freshwater lakes and ponds in the northern regions.

Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)

  • Features: These small waterbirds have a brownish-grey plumage and a distinctive black ring on their bills during the breeding season.
  • Locations: Wetlands and ponds across the state, including the freshwater habitats of the Skagit Wildlife Area.
  • Fun Fact: They are known to sink slowly into the water when threatened, leaving only their head visible.

Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)

  • Features: In breeding plumage, they don a black head with eye-catching golden tufts, contrasting with a deep red neck.
  • Locations: Lakes and larger ponds during migration, with a notable presence in areas like Lake Sammamish.
  • Fun Fact: Their name stems from the yellowish feather tufts on their head that resemble horns.

Pelagic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pelagicus)

  • Features: A sleek black bird with a long neck, during breeding season, they showcase bright red facial skin and white patches on their flanks.
  • Locations: Coastal areas like the San Juan Islands, often seen perched on rocks.
  • Fun Fact: Their name “Pelagic” refers to their preference for open ocean environments.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

  • Features: Larger than the pelagic cormorant, this bird sports a black body with yellow-orange facial skin. When in breeding plumage, they display tufts or crests above each eye.
  • Locations: Found throughout Washington’s freshwater and coastal areas, such as the estuaries of Puget Sound.
  • Fun Fact: They often stand with their wings spread to dry them after diving.

Brandt’s Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus)

  • Features: Predominantly black with a blue patch on the throat during breeding season, they have a slender profile and long neck.
  • Locations: Coastal waters, especially around the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
  • Fun Fact: They often spread their wings out to dry after diving for fish.

Sooty Shearwater (Ardenna grisea)

  • Features: A medium-sized bird with a dark, sooty coloration throughout, their slender wings give them an elegant flight pattern.
  • Locations: Offshore waters along Washington’s coast, particularly during migration.
  • Fun Fact: They undertake one of the longest migrations of any bird, traveling from the North Pacific to the South Pacific and back.

Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata)

  • Features: Though not a true puffin, their appearance is similar, with a dark body and a peculiar horn-like extension on their bill during the breeding season.
  • Locations: Coastal regions, especially around the Salish Sea and offshore islands.
  • Fun Fact: Their ‘horns’ glow under UV light!

Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba)

  • Features: Black-bodied with a striking white wing patch, their bright red feet are a standout. During flight, their underwing showcases a white pattern.
  • Locations: Rocky coastal areas and islands such as the San Juan Archipelago.
  • Fun Fact: Their whistle-like calls are a familiar sound in their habitats during summer.

American Coot (Fulica americana)

  • Features: Although not a duck, their appearance is duck-like. They have a blackish body with a distinctive white bill and a red eye.
  • Locations: Freshwater lakes and ponds throughout Washington, including Lake Washington and Moses Lake.
  • Fun Fact: They have lobed toes rather than webbed feet, aiding in both swimming and walking.

Black Oystercatcher (Haematopus bachmani)

  • Features: This striking shorebird has entirely black plumage, a long bright red bill, and lemon-yellow eyes.
  • Locations: Rocky shores of the Pacific coast, such as those around Neah Bay.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their name, their diet consists more of mussels and limpets than oysters.

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

  • Features: The males are easily identified by their jet-black hue and fiery-red shoulder patches, while females are a muted brown.
  • Locations: Thriving in wetlands, especially the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge.
  • Fun Fact: Their conk-la-ree! call heralds the beginning of spring for many Washington residents.

Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)

  • Features: Males are glossy with a metallic sheen and a keen yellow gaze, contrasting the more muted females.
  • Locations: Open areas, including parks in Olympia and Spokane.
  • Fun Fact: Highly adaptive, they adjust their diet based on seasonal availability.

Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)

  • Features: Males, with their glossy black bodies and contrasting brown heads, are distinctive, while females are a plain brown.
  • Locations: Spotted in open spaces, often in Eastern Washington’s Spokane Valley.
  • Fun Fact: Their parasitic nesting behavior has them laying eggs in the nests of other birds.

Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)

  • Features: With a sooty black head and back contrasting their white belly, they’re often seen perching and swooping to catch insects mid-flight.
  • Locations: Common in southwestern Washington near water bodies.
  • Fun Fact: This flycatcher frequently wags its tail when perched.

American Black Swift (Cypseloides niger)

  • Features: Sleek in flight, their uniformly black plumage sets them apart in the skies.
  • Locations: They favor the cliffs around Mount Rainier during breeding seasons.
  • Fun Fact: Their unique nesting spots are often hidden behind waterfalls.

White-throated Swift (Aeronautes saxatalis)

  • Features: Characterized by their slender, dark bodies with a stark white throat and belly, their swift flight is a marvel to behold.
  • Locations: Often seen soaring over open landscapes and canyons, including the basalt cliffs of the Columbia River Gorge.
  • Fun Fact: They can achieve some of the fastest flight speeds of any bird, often outpacing other species during aerial pursuits.

Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

  • Features: Recognizable by their glossy black feathers with a metallic sheen, these birds showcase a spectrum of colors in sunlight. In winter, they have white speckles.
  • Locations: Urban areas, farmlands, and parks, including areas in Tacoma and Everett.
  • Fun Fact: Originally not native to North America, they were introduced in the 19th century and have since spread across the continent.

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)

  • Features: The male Bobolink stands out during breeding season with a distinctive black face, white back, and yellow nape, while the female dons a streaked brown appearance.
  • Locations: Frequent in the grasslands of Eastern Washington, especially around the Palouse region.
  • Fun Fact: Undertaking one of the most extended avian migrations, Bobolinks travel over 12,000 miles to South America and back.

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

  • Features: The male is unmistakable with its sharp yellow head and chest juxtaposed against a black body; the female is brown with hints of yellow on the throat.
  • Locations: These birds favor the marshes and wetlands of Central and Eastern Washington. Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is a known habitat.
  • Fun Fact: Their distinctive calls are a collection of harsh notes, distinguishing them from their mellower blackbird relatives.

American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus)

  • Features: North America’s only aquatic songbird, this bird is slate-gray and is characterized by its constant bobbing motion when perched.
  • Locations: Fast-flowing streams in the Cascade Range and the Olympic Mountains.
  • Fun Fact: They have an extra eyelid that allows them to see underwater as they hunt for insects.

Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus)

  • Features: Predominantly black upperparts with a white underbelly and a striking white-tipped tail. Their agility in catching insects in mid-air is noteworthy.
  • Locations: Open habitats across Eastern Washington, particularly in places like Spokane River Centennial State Park Trail.
  • Fun Fact: Though they appear calm, they’re known to chase away much larger birds from their territory.

Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)

  • Features: Though not entirely black, their dark plumage, combined with the striking red crest, makes them noticeable. Their drumming can be heard echoing in the forests.
  • Locations: Dense mature forests, especially in the western regions like the Hoh Rainforest.
  • Fun Fact: They leave characteristic rectangular holes in trees while foraging for their favorite prey, carpenter ants.

Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)

  • Features: Predominantly black and white with a straight bill and a flash of red on the head for males. Their rhythmic drumming often echoes in the forests.
  • Locations: Wooded habitats including the coniferous forests of North Cascades National Park.
  • Fun Fact: They can consume a variety of insects harmful to trees, making them essential for forest health.

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

  • Features: Resembling the Hairy Woodpecker, they’re smaller with a shorter bill. Males exhibit a red patch on the back of the head.
  • Locations: Deciduous woodlands, backyards, and parks, like those in Bellevue and Tacoma.
  • Fun Fact: They often join flocks of small birds for protection and social interaction during winter.

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)

  • Features: Notable for their clown-like face with a black, white, and red head pattern, and a black patch on their chest.
  • Locations: Oak woodlands in the southeastern parts of Washington, especially near Walla Walla.
  • Fun Fact: They store thousands of acorns in individually drilled holes in trees, creating a “granary tree.”

American Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides dorsalis)

  • Features: Sporting a black and white striped face and flanks, males have a yellow cap, while the females are entirely black and white.
  • Locations: Coniferous forests in the higher elevations of the Cascade Mountains.
  • Fun Fact: Unlike most woodpeckers, they lack the fourth hind toe, making their tracks distinctive.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

  • Features: A powerful and large falcon, they exhibit a blue-gray back with barred white underparts. Their black head is crowned with a distinctive mustache-like mark.
  • Locations: Rocky cliffs and high vantage points across the state, including the cliffs of the Columbia River Gorge.
  • Fun Fact: Recognized as the fastest bird in the world, they’ve been clocked diving at speeds over 240 mph.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

  • Features: With a wingspan that can reach nearly six feet, their dark brown to black plumage contrasts with a bald red head.
  • Locations: Open areas, including the grasslands of the Columbia Basin.
  • Fun Fact: They have a keen sense of smell, a rarity among birds, which they use to locate carrion.

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

  • Features: With sleek black feathers, sharp eyes, and a flair for intelligence, they dominate both urban and wild landscapes.
  • Locations: Ubiquitous across Washington, including Seattle’s Discovery Park.
  • Fun Fact: Their social nature allows them to recognize and remember individual human faces.

Northern Raven (Corvus corax)

  • Features: Larger and more wedge-tailed than crows, their deep calls and soaring flights are majestic sights.
  • Locations: Found in wild areas, including the Cascade Mountains and Olympic National Forest.
  • Fun Fact: Ravens have complex social structures and can mimic sounds from their environment.

Threats and Conservation

As iconic as they are, black birds in Washington State face threats like:

  • Habitat Disruption: Urban development often results in loss of nesting and feeding areas.
  • Climate Instabilities: Changes in migratory patterns and breeding grounds due to climate anomalies.
  • Human Disturbance: Direct interference or pollution can disrupt their routines.

Conservation actions to consider:

  • Habitat Protection: Initiatives that conserve wetlands and forests are crucial for their survival.
  • Public Engagement: Education and community involvement can help in reducing disturbances to these birds.
  • Supporting Research: Data on their numbers, habits, and challenges can guide effective conservation strategies.

Conclusion

The Great Washington State Birding Trail offers bird enthusiasts the opportunity to explore the diverse habitats of Washington and encounter a variety of black bird species. From the forests to the wetlands, these birds face challenges such as habitat disruption, climate instabilities, and human disturbance. To ensure their survival, conservation efforts must focus on habitat protection, public engagement, and supporting research. By preserving their habitats, educating communities, and utilizing scientific data, we can contribute to the conservation of black birds in Washington State.