A Guide to Blackbirds and Black Birds in Connecticut

There are a lot of blackbirds, and also black birds to be found in Connecticut. We’re going to combine these two topics into one article and provide an overview of the Blackbirds and Black Birds of Connecticut.

Here’s a listing of 10 species of blackbirds (Icterids) and 19 black birds that you can see throughout Connecticut, along with some fun facts and identification tips.

For other birdwatching in Connecticut see our articles on backyard birds, ducks, hawks, owls, hummingbirds, and woodpeckers.

Blackbirds Seen in Connecticut

Blackbirds (one word) are members of the Icterid family, which includes Orioles, Meadowlarks, Bobolinks, Grackles, and Cowbirds. Black birds (two words) are birds with predominantly black plumage. Many icterids have black plumage. No matter how you look it up, searching “blackbirds” or “black birds” gets you the same results, so…

1. Red-winged Blackbird


Scientific Name: Agelaius phoeniceus Size: 6.7 to 9.1 inches

Male Red-winged Blackbirds are large black Icterids. They have orange-red patches on their shoulders and long pointed wings. But not all Red-winged Blackbirds have red wings. Some may have yellow or orange epaulets on their wings.

The female red-winged blackbird is striped and brown-streaked in color. She resembles a giant streaky sparrow with a more finch-like, thick bill.

A red-winged blackbird’s nest is usually in a marsh or near water, but they have also been found on flat roofs and even in chimneys.

Their nest is made of twigs, grasses, and hair. They are lined with finer grasses, rootlets, or horsehair. The female lays 4 to 6 eggs that are a pale blue-green color. 

These birds are known to eat insects and seeds, including corn, wheat, and other grains. They also eat berries from shrubs and trees like elderberry, mulberry, wild grape, or honeysuckle.

This icterid species is mostly migratory – seen in Connecticut in fall and winter in large numbers, with a small population that stays year-round. They are common in many of our backyards. They also like reeds along beaches, marshes, and around lakes, and are also known to inhabit urban areas.

The marshes and wetlands throughout Connecticut are hotspots for birding and are loaded with Red-winged Blackbirds. You won’t have to travel far to find them.

Interesting Facts & Notes

You’ve heard the expression “Birds of a feather flock together”? Always check flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds for other Icterids like Common Grackles, European Starlings, and Brown-headed Cowbirds. These birds are often found mixed in together in large groups. And on occasion, you may find a rarity like Yellow-headed Blackbird in the mix, so remember our catchphrase – Bird Every Bird!

They have a loud, clear whistle that sounds like “fee-bee” and also various cackling and chattering noises.


2. Rusty Blackbird

Scientific Name: Euphagus carolinus Size: 9 inches

A black bird with rusty feathers, slightly larger and slimmer than a Red-winged Blackbird, with a longer tail and slenderer bill than Red-winged. The eye of the Rusty Blackbird is always pale yellow, which stands out.

Nests can be found in trees and shrubs with water nearby. They start with twigs and grasses and add a layer of rotting, wet leaves and vegetation that hardens as it dries and gives stability to the nest.

While they feed mostly on insects and other plant materials, Rusty Blackbirds have been known to attack and eat other birds.

Look for Rusty Blackbirds in places like wet woodlands, marshes, and bogs. They wade into shallow standing water and can often be found on the edges of wet areas, turning over decomposing leaves in search of insects.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Rusty Blackbird populations are the most rapidly declining in the United States. They are a vulnerable species due to habitat loss.


3. Common Grackle

common grackle

Scientific Name:  Quiscalus quiscula Size: 11 to 15.4 inches

The Common Grackle is part of the blackbird family and, as a blackbird species, has iridescent feathers (usually dark blue or purple).

Grackles are often mistaken for crows, but they are much smaller in size and can be distinguished by their long tails and glossy black feathers. Their eyes are yellow and they are larger than a robin. They are often found in large flocks during the summer months.

They nest in colonies and build their nests in trees and bushes that are at least 3 feet off the ground. The female picks the spot of the nest and mostly builds them too but the male will help her.

Omnivores, they eat small insects, fruits, seeds, and grains. They can often be seen at backyard bird feeders where they will also dine on sunflower seeds and cracked corn.

Grackles are very intelligent birds that sometimes use their beaks to turn over rocks in search of insects. You will also find them at farm fields where they will eat the seeds from corn and rice.

Found throughout the United States, Grackles can be seen in parks, yards, open fields, and wooded areas. They are very adaptable birds that have learned to thrive in cities where they often find food and water.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Grackles are also known as “possum hawks” because they sometimes prey on the eggs of ground-nesting birds like quail, grouse, and pheasants.


Grackles can also be heard making a wide range of calls that include whistles and rattling sounds.

4. Boat-tailed Grackle


Scientific Name: Quiscalus major Size: 14.5 (female) to 16.5 inches (male)

Large blackbird with dark eyes and an elongated tail. Boat-tailed Grackles are coastal birds and commonly show up in Connecticut in late February. 

The all-black male usually has a glossy blue-black iridescence to their plumage; females are much smaller and are a rich reddish brown. They look like a completely different species but still have that extra-long tail.

They nest in reeds, cattails, and tall grasses around marshes, building their nests high enough from water and predators.

Boat-tailed Grackles are not picky eaters. They dine on crustaceans, mollusks, arthropods, and reptiles, and are not above scavenging food from humans, their pets, and other birds. 

This grackle species is a seasonal resident of the Connecticut coast. They arrive in Spring and leave in late Summer. They never venture far from salt water (except in Florida, where they are everywhere). 

Interesting Facts & Notes

Boat-tailed Grackles will often dunk their food (like pet food and rice) in water to soften it before eating.


5. Brown-headed Cowbird


Scientific Name: Molothrus ater Size: 7.5 inches

Chunky, dark-eyed blackbird with short tails and thick bills. Males are shiny black with iridescent brown heads.  Females are brown with light streaks on the belly. 

Brown-headed Cowbirds nest in trees, but there is no nest-building involved. Female Brown-headed Cowbirds are parasites – they lay their eggs in the nests of other species. In many cases, larger Cowbird nestlings will push the other species’ eggs or chicks out of the nest. Parasite hosts raise the Cowbird chick as their own. If you see a Carolina Wren feeding a large baby bird, it’s probably a Cowbird chick.

Seeds, grasses, and insects make up most of the Brown-headed Cowbird’s diet. Females add snails and eggs from nests they parasitize; they need the extra calcium because they lay so many of their eggs in other birds’ nests.

Brown-headed Cowbirds will come to feeders, usually with Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and European Starlings that sometimes overwhelm your yard.

You’ll find these birds pretty much everywhere except in heavy forests. They got their name by foraging among herds of grazing buffalo and cattle.

Interesting Facts & Notes

The much smaller Yellow Warbler’s nests are targets for Brown-headed Cowbirds, but the Yellow Warbler has figured out a way to deal with this. Since they are too small to just push the Cowbird egg out of the nest, they build another nest on top of the Cowbird egg, smothering it (and sadly, any of their eggs the female Cowbird did not destroy), thus allowing their second cache of eggs to hatch without intruders.


6. Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole sitting on a branch

Scientific Name: Icterus galbula Size: 6.5 to 8 inches

Even though they are much more brightly colored, Orioles are part of the blackbird family. The Baltimore Oriole is probably the easiest to identify of the East Coast orioles, not just because it happens to be the mascot of that baseball team in Maryland (loved Boog, Brooks, and Cal, but I’m a Yankee fan).

The Baltimore Oriole is a medium-sized icterid. The black head and wings, magnificent bright orange body feathers, and yellow underparts on the male Baltimore Oriole are dazzling. The male oriole also sports a large orange patch on the back of its neck and two black spots on each side of its head.

The female oriole has a black patch on the back of her neck and a spot on either side of her head. The female is duller than the male and sometimes appears yellow with a brownish tinge on her black feathers.

A top of the tree nester, they make hanging nests woven from grapevine, bark, and grasses and use spider silk to tie them together. The female lays three or four pale blue, spotted eggs. She incubates the eggs for 10 days; both parents take turns feeding the nestlings.

This is the most common oriole in Connecticut. They are more likely to be heard than seen, as they prefer the treetops (but if you have grape jelly and oranges…). You’ll know they are around if you memorize their song. Once I hear one, I put out the oriole buffet (Catbirds, Downy Woodpeckers, and the Blue Jays are other birds that love this spread).

Interesting Facts & Notes

A common visitor to feeders, Baltimore Orioles will eat fruit (they love oranges!), suet, grape jelly, and nectar.

The bird wears the same colors (black and orange) as those on the family crest of Lord Baltimore, which is how they got their name.


7. Orchard Oriole


Scientific Name: Icterus spurius Size: 5.9 to 7.1 inches

The smallest of North America’s orioles.

Male Orchard Orioles are brick red underneath and mostly black on top. Females are yellowish green with two distinctive white wing bars. There is no black on the female, but an immature male will show a black throat, so it is possible to tell them apart from the female. As the young male molts, more of the brick-orange color will appear, until it has full adult plumage.

Orchard Orioles are mostly insectivores but will get fruits when available. They will come to oranges, grape jelly, and even hummingbird feeders (orioles like nectar), but are less likely to be found using them than Baltimore Orioles.

They build the same type of hanging nests as Baltimore Orioles, woven sacks suspended high up in the trees. Unlike many other songbirds, they don’t mind other birds nesting near them.

Up is a good place to search for these birds, as they prefer the tops of trees to hang out in. 

In Connecticut, you can find Orchard Orioles from about April to July. They are early migrants, heading back down to Mexico, Central, and the Caribbean.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Orchard Orioles prefer to migrate at night. This enables them to avoid most avian predators and steer clear of bad weather.


8. European Starling

Scientific Name: Sturnus vulgaris Size: 8.5 inches

Vocal mimics of other birds and considered pests by many, the European Starling, like the Mute Swan, is an introduced species that has a strong foothold in the United States and is here for good.

Even though they are much despised, the European Starling is a handsome bird, with its iridescent, varying plumage and amazing maneuvers in the sky known as murmurations.

Starlings can change their plumage from spotted and white to glossy and dark without molting. New feathers growing in provide the white “spots” and fade as they get old, reverting the Starling to an all-black bird. In flight, they present a triangular wing, making them easier to identify from other common species.

Anywhere you look, there are Starlings. They are in the woods, sitting on telephone wires over fields, and roosting in trees in an urban neighborhood.

These icterids are foragers and can be found on the ground, usually in flocks of mixed birds like Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Robins and Crows, and even sparrows and pigeons (we birders prefer “Rock Pigeon” – go ahead, it’s on your Connecticut state checklist).

If you see a huge flock of birds in the trees at night, most of them are probably European Starlings. You can’t get away from them. And they will swarm and empty your feeders rather quickly.

Interesting Facts & Notes

One of the most spectacular sights in the avian world is a murmuration of European Starlings. A ribbon of blackbirds twisting, turning, and undulating as one across the sky is a sight to be seen. 

European Starlings are an invasive species. They were brought to the New World by a group who wanted to have all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s works right here in America. The origin of all those Starlings everywhere across the country was 100 birds set loose in New York City’s Central Park in the 1890s. An additional 100 were brought over when the first set seemed to have diminished. 

There are more than 200 million of them at this time.


9. Eastern Meadowlark

Scientific Name: Sturnella magna Size: 7.5 to 10 inches

Despite their name, Eastern Meadowlarks are not members of the Lark family – they are Icterids just like Red-winged Blackbirds and Baltimore Orioles. They are year-round residents of Connecticut, but the loss of habitat has lessened their numbers in the state.

A medium-sized songbird, Eastern Meadowlarks have bright yellow breasts with black chest chevrons that make them stand out from other birds among the grasslands and farm fields of Connecticut. Look for them perched on tall grasses and posts throughout open fields, singing their beautiful songs.

In flight, Eastern Meadowlarks show a dark back and white stripes on either side of their tails. 

While you can find them in fields and meadows during the warmer months, in winter look for them on farm fields, especially where crops have been cut down, foraging for corn and seeds among the dirt. 

Interesting Facts & Notes

Although they can sing over 100 different songs, one of the most common songs sounds like they’re singing their name. Listen in fields for something that sounds like “eastern – meadowlark!”

Eastern Meadowlarks are prime victims of habitat loss; less grassland means fewer Meadowlarks. They have been declining all over their range. In Connecticut, they are most likely to be found in rural areas, where there are still open meadows and fields for them to forage.


10. Bobolink


Scientific Name: Dolichonyx oryzivorus Size: 7 inches

Adult breeding Bobolink males are solid black with a cream-colored nape of the neck and extensive white patches around the shoulders, back, and rump. The rump patch is visible in flight.

Female Bobolinks are buffy overall with brown striping on the wings, large pink bills, and pale napes.

You can tell females and non-breeding male Bobolinks from sparrows by the Bobolink’s pointed wings, pale nape, and habits.

Ground nesters, these birds usually build their nests in mildly wet soil, clearing away any vegetation and making a depression in the mud. They line this first with dead grass and stems, later adding softer grasses inside. 

Bobolinks are seed eaters except during breeding season when they add insects to their diet to aid their growing chick’s protein intake. They eat grains, oats, both wild and domesticated rice, and seeds, with an occasional spider thrown in.  

The Bobolink prefers open fallow fields, tallgrass prairies, hayfields, meadows, and reed beds. 

Interesting Facts & Notes

Bobolink flight calls sound very metallic and mechanical, similar to R2-D2 from Star Wars.


Black Birds Seen in Connecticut

Here’s a listing of 19 species of black birds that you can see throughout Connecticut, along with some fun facts and identification tips.

11. American Coot

Scientific Name: Fulica americana Size: inches to 17 inches

A duck-like bird found everywhere you would find ducks, American Coots are considered waterfowl, just like ducks. While they float like ducks on the water, on land the American Coot is quite a different bird than the ducks they like to hang around with. In the taxonomic order, they are related to rails (also waterbirds, but not waterfowl).

American Coots are squat, plump little waterbirds with black or dark gray plumage, rounded heads, sloping white bills, and red eyes. Their legs are yellow and their toes are exceptionally large for their body size and lobed, which helps them move around in the water. On land, they appear chicken-like.

These birds like freshwater wetlands, preferring ones with lots of aquatic vegetation along their shores and at least some deep water to swim around in.

Interesting Facts & Notes

American Coots are more closely related to rails and cranes than to ducks.

Coots are not graceful flyers. Like the rest of the Gruiformes (Common Gallinules – formerly known as Common Moorhen – and Purple Gallinules), they are awkward in flight. They are often seen beating their wings rapidly while trying to walk across the water’s surface to gain takeoff momentum.


12. American Crow

American Crow in a tree

Scientific Name: Corvus brachyrhynchos  Size: 15.8-20.9 inches

The American Crow is not a crow at all – It is a raven, but it has been called the “American Crow” for many years. This all-black bird has shiny feathers. The bill is also black with a hook on the end. The male is slightly glossier than the female. Both species have fairly short, squared tails.

They are intelligent, wary, and pretty much found everywhere in the country. Crows have a very distinctive flight pattern, a meticulous, constant flapping with very few glides in between.

The American Crow doesn’t breed until it’s between 2 and 4 years old. The “family” stays together for years, so some of the “kids” will help raise the next year’s brood.

Their nests are in large trees, with a preference for evergreens. Both the male and female will make the nest out of large twigs lined with pine needles. The nest is big, around 15 inches across and 7 to 10 inches deep.

They usually lay 3 to 9 eggs which are bluish-green with gray and brown blotches at either end. The incubation period is 16 to 18 days, and the young remain in the nest anywhere from 20 to 40 days.

American Crows will eat just about anything including seeds, nuts, worms, and small animals such as mice. They will also steal and eat eggs from other birds like robins, sparrows, loons, jays, and eiders. They will even eat garbage from the dumps.

The American Crow can be seen throughout the United States but they differ in size by region. In Florida, the American Crow is smaller but has large feet. Some Northeastern crows are as large as Ravens, and there is also an overlap where Fish Crows are found.

Interesting Facts & Notes

All members of the Corvid family are smart and adept at making and using tools. American Crows have been known to use bits of wood, leaves, and string to fashion problem-solving tools. 

And Crows remember faces. A famous experiment had some students on a college campus walking around in a mask, harassing the local Crows, while an unmasked group walked the same pathways without bothering them. One year later, wearing the mask got the professor mobbed by crows as he walked to class, showing that Crows remember who their enemies are.

How to tell an American Crow from a Common Raven? One way is by voice – Crows have a “caw” while Ravens’ caws are more like croaks. The other is to look at the tail if you can. American Crows have squared-off, short tails while Raven tails are more diamond-shaped.


13. Fish Crow
Fish crow by the sea

Scientific Name Corvus ossifragus Size: 14-16 inches

While most of the United States sees the ubiquitous American Crow year-round, in the eastern United States there are two species of Crow to notice – the American Crow, and the Fish Crow. 

Fish Crows can be found along the coastal areas of the eastern United States, and occasionally partially inland. Fish Crows look exactly like American Crows. When you’re hanging out at the beach, how do you know what kind of crow you’re looking at? Just listen.

American Crows have their distinctive “caw”; Fish Crows do too, but they sound nasal, as if they have a cold, often utilizing a double “caw”. This is the best way to tell the two species apart, as everything written above about American Crows applies to Fish Crows, except for preferred habitats – Fish Crows like beaches, marshes, lakes, and anywhere near water. 

Interesting Facts & Notes

Another way to tell Fish and American Crows apart – if they’re perched on a thin wire, they’re probably Fish Crows. 

If they find a good food source, Fish Crows stash away some of it for later use.


14. Common Raven

Scientific Name: Corvus corax Size: 24 inches

Ravens are large, solid black birds with long, wedge-shaped tails, elongated narrow wings, and heavy bills. They are larger than their American and Fish Crow cousins. 

They can appear hawk-like in flight and are acrobatic flyers, which helps when they are eluding the smaller birds that mob and chase them in flight.

Common Ravens have a very harsh and deep “caw” that’s more of a croak, and also clack their bills. 

Common Ravens are formidable predators. From mice to birds as large as herons, to eggs and carrion, they dine on it all. This is why you will often see them chased and harassed by other birds, including Crows.

Ravens are not picky. They will eat anything they come across. One odd place to find Common Ravens is at garbage dumps and dumpsters behind stores. They are also fond of building their nests on towers.

Common Ravens are found from the mountains to the beaches and everywhere in between. They don’t mind humans and can be found in rural areas, farms, and even in suburban locations. 

Interesting Facts & Notes

Ravens are highly intelligent and adept at solving complicated puzzles. They have been guarding the Tower of London for years.


15. Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored)

Scientific Name: Junco hyemalus Size: 5.1 to 6.9 inches

Found all across the United States in some variation or another, the Dark-eyed Junco was at one time a group of similar birds (Slate-colored, Oregon, Pink-sided, Red-backed, Gray-headed, White-winged, and Dark-eyed) that were determined to be the same DNA, so all the regional variations were combined under the name “Dark-eyed Junco”.

Part of the sparrow branch of the avian tree, Juncos are flitty, flashy little birds with white feathers on the outsides of their tails, making them easy to spot while moving in the underbrush. They are one of the most abundant forest birds in North America and love visiting your feeders when they’re around.

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate-colored) are black on top and gray underneath, with white feathers along the sides of their tails that flash when in flight. Like sparrows, they don’t walk when on the ground – they hop. In the eastern and middle sections of the US, they are the snowbirds – they are usually the earliest of the winter migrants to arrive and the first to leave when the weather warms.

Interesting Facts & Notes

These guys move like the wind. They are often found in mixed flocks with other sparrows, kinglets, and chickadees going from tree to tree (or feeder to feeder). They love your birdseed and may be the most abundant species seen in your yard during winter.


16. Pileated Woodpecker

Scientific Name: Dryocopus pileatus Size: 16.5 inches

Large woodpecker almost the size of a crow, all black body with white stripes down a long neck and a bright red crest on top of the head and a white under-wing and white wing patch easily seen in flight. 

Pileated Woodpeckers fly in fairly straight lines, unlike other woodpecker species, which have undulating flight patterns. 

These are noisy, loud woodpeckers. Their drum is slow and powerful, accelerates, and then trails off, not more than two times a minute.

Pileated Woodpeckers drill out cavities in trees. They like Carpenter Ants, so they’re often found foraging at the bottoms of dead trees or on fallen logs.

Habitat-wise, they like mature hardwood forests and woodlands. Pileated Woodpeckers hunt for dead trees and logs, which provide them with both food and a nest cavity.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Pileated Woodpecker holes are rectangular rather than round or oval like other woodpeckers, and they are deep enough to break smaller trees in half. Nothing excavates a tree like a Pileated.

Oddly enough, this was the inspiration for Woody Woodpecker. 


17. Glossy Ibis

Scientific Name: Plegadis falcinellus Size: 23 Inches Wingspan: 31 inches

The more common Ibis in the Northeast, the Glossy Ibis is a black wading bird with a distinctive down-curving bill and iridescent plumage.

Adult non-breeding birds are black with dark heads, necks, and backs. Breeding birds are a blend of black and other colors. While Glossy Ibises look black from a distance, a close look in good light will show maroon, bronze, and even emerald and violet along with the shiny black feathers.  

Glossy Ibis nest in colonies like other herons in low trees. They build bulky nests from reeds, sticks, and twigs.

Glossy Ibis forage among muddy pools and marshes in search of aquatic prey. They stir up the marsh pools, often attracting other waders like Snowy Egrets, who eat the small fish disturbed by the Ibises. 

They forage by both sight and touch, usually on the falling tide, eating everything from insects, mollusks, crabs, crayfish, snails, fish, and amphibians to snakes.

Glossy Ibises are found in freshwater, brackish, and saltwater marshes. They are often found in small groups mixed in with other herons and waders. 

Interesting Facts & Notes

In flight, Glossy Ibises have a rather prehistoric silhouette, with their long necks and legs outstretched, and their distinctive long, down-curving bill leading the way.


18. Black Scoter

Scientific Name: Melanitta nigra                Size: 19 inches

The Black Scoter is the smallest and most compact of the Scoter family, but they are large ducks. Look for them anywhere along the coast during the winter months. 

These waterfowl are dark sea ducks with short bills, usually found floating in rafts on the open salt water, often mixed in with White-winged Scoter and Long-tailed Ducks.

Males have yellow-orange bills and are all black; females are dark with whitish patches on the face and cheeks.

Black Scoters dive for clams and other crustaceans.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Scoters are very vocal, making a whistling sound that carries over the water.


19. White-winged Scoter


Scientific Name: Melanitta fusca                                           Size: 21 inches

The largest Scoter, they are usually found in large rafts floating along with other members of the Scoter family. White-winged Scoters have a long bill and somewhat concave head.

Seasonal visitors to the East Coast, White-winged Scoters are found in winter months wherever the water is cold, and the water in Connecticut is certainly cold in winter.

Males are black on top over a dark brown body, with a distinctive white “comma” or “Viking Horn” below their eyes. The bills are orange and slightly puffed close to the head.

Female White-winged Scoters are dark brownish-black. Like the other female Scoters, they have two white patches on the face, one behind the eye and the other on the face between the eyes.

The white speculum on both sexes is an easy identification mark, not only when they are on the wing, but also when diving or sitting in the water.

Interesting Facts & Notes

White-winged Scoters are usually found in mixed rafts along with Black Scoters. The male White-winged Scoter’s eye comma stands out, so if you count all the black ducks with white eye markings, the rest of the Scoters in the group must be Black Scoters. (This tip is courtesy of a waterfowl census-taker).


20. Surf Scoter

Scientific Name: Melanitta perspicillata                  Size: 20 inches

This is the Scoter species seen closest to shore and the easiest to identify. Look for them in winter months anywhere there are waves and swells for them to frolic in.

Surf Scoter males are all black with a white patch on the forehead and a larger one on the nape of the neck. They have heavy triangular, multi-colored, bulbous bills that stand out among the sea ducks. 

Male Surf Scoter bills appear orange from afar but are black, white, red, and yellow. They are wider and puffier at the top and taper towards the tip, making their heads look like a wedge.

The female Surf Scoter has two white patches on her face, one in the front being long and narrow

while the other sits behind and beneath the eye. 

Surf Scoters like to be where the breaking waves are, so they are usually the Scoter found closest to shore. They dive for crustaceans, mollusks, small fish, and aquatic vegetation.

Interesting Facts & Notes

An old name for the Surf Scoter used to be “Skunk Head”.

First-winter males do not have the large, protruding bill of mature adults.


21. Turkey Vulture

Scientific Name: Cathartes aura Size: 26 to 28 inches Wingspan: 67 to 72 inches

Large black birds with red, naked heads. Flight is distinctive: wings are raised in the dihedral (U-shaped) and they rock their bodies from side to side. The underside of the wings shows white all around, with a solid black body in the center; wingtips (fingers) are spread out in flight.

They are often found in big kettles, with an occasional Black Vulture or two in the mix. Turkey Vultures nest on the ground in crevices or hollow logs. They may also utilize abandoned heron and hawk nests. 

The Turkey Vulture’s sole source of sustenance is carrion. Turkey Vultures cruise overhead on thermals, rising early to search for dead things.

Turkey Vultures roost high in trees or on structures. They can be found almost anywhere in Connecticut. Look for large pines or dead trees along the water, where they can be found at dusk hanging out. They like company, so a roost can sometimes contain 30-40 birds. 

Interesting Facts & Notes

A flight of vultures is called a kettle.  Turkey Vultures can smell their food while circling high above the ground. 


22. Black Vulture

Scientific Name: Coragyps atratus Size: 22 to 25 inches      Wingspan: 54 to 59 inches

All black birds with dark, naked heads. Flight differs from Turkey Vulture, flying higher and straighter and not in the dihedral. It does not rock side to side like the Turkey Vulture. The underside of their wings shows white at the wrist (tips of wings), with the fingers outspread. The tail is also shorter than the Turkey Vulture.

Black Vultures nest in crevices, hollow logs, and caves, laying their eggs directly on the ground.

Black Vultures are carrion eaters. They only eat dead things. They ride the thermals, going up a bit later in the day than Turkey Vulture and flying higher up, in search of the dead and dying. 

Black Vultures are not as common in Connecticut as Turkey Vultures and are often found mixed in with Turkey Vultures. They roost in trees or on tall poles, usually close to water or any structure that generates thermals.

Interesting Facts & Notes

The Black Vulture’s sense of smell is not as keen as their Turkey Vulture cousins, so they soar above the Turkey Vultures and watch them so that when the Turkey Vultures find food, the Black Vultures follow them to the carcass. Black Vultures are opportunists and may also be found scrounging around the local dump.


23. Double-Crested Cormorant

Double-created Cormorant

Scientific Name: Phalacrocorax auratus Size: 33 inches. Wingspan: 52 inches

Double-crested Cormorants are large black birds with black legs, webbed black feet, and orange chin patches normally found in or around water. Juvenile birds vary from the adults in that they have pale necks and breasts. The “double crest” can only be seen on the backs of their heads during the breeding season.

The large birds roost in tall trees, on posts and rocks. They build bulky nests out of sticks and other materials, including bits of rope and other garbage. 

Look for these birds on or near water, either on larger freshwater bodies or salt water. As fish eaters, they dive constantly in search of food, only stopping to dry off their water-soaked feathers between foraging.

They are often found sitting in trees, posts, and on rocks with their wings outstretched.

Interesting Facts & Notes

If you see a flock of large dark birds flying in V-formation, if they stay in the V, then they are geese or ducks. For some strange reason, Cormorants can’t seem to hold a V-formation for very long. They are just not cut out for precision flight.

All Cormorants do a good Dracula impersonation, sitting out on logs and trees with their black wings outstretched and making them look like Water Vultures. This is because Cormorant feathers lack the waterproofing of other diving birds and quickly become waterlogged. (This is also why they appear to sit so low in the water at times.) They have to come out of the water and dry off their plumage before they can get back in again.


24. Great Cormorant

Great Cormorant

Scientific Name: Phalacrocorax carbo Size: 36 inches Wingspan: 47 to 63 inches

Adult birds are all black with white throats and yellowish chin patches. Breeding Great Cormorants show a white hip patch, a good field mark for a bird in flight. Note their black legs and large black webbed feet.

Immature birds have brown heads and necks with white bellies. 

Great Cormorants nest on rocky islands and cliffs along the Connecticut coast. The nests are constructed out of marine materials and sticks brought to the female by the male. The nests can be as wide as 18 or more inches and around 8 inches high.

Great Cormorants are fish eaters, diving up to 100 feet down to catch fish in their hooked bills.

Great Cormorants like rocky coastlines and are often found perched on jetty light towers, breakwaters, large boulders, and rocky coastal islands. They are strictly sea birds and are usually not found around anything other than saltwater.

Interesting Facts & Notes

All of the Cormorant family tend to face into the wind, with the sun at their backs, when they are drying out their feathers. This enables their outstretched wings and body feathers to dry faster so they can get back to diving for food.


How to tell a Great Cormorant from a Double-crested Cormorant

Great Cormorants are the largest of the Cormorants.  They are heavier-bodied than the smaller Double-crested. Juvenile Great Cormorants have white bellies, as opposed to the dark bellies of the Double-crested Cormorant juveniles, and also have shorter tails than the Double-crested.

Adult Greats have a white hip patch in the breeding season, which is lacking in the Double-crested. 

In addition, Great Cormorants have white throats with yellow chin patches, whereas Double-crested Cormorants have orange throats and don’t have white necks.

25. Common Murre

Scientific Name: Uria aalge Size: 17.5 inches

Common Murres are Alcids, birds that spend the majority of their time on open ocean waters rather than land. Like most alcids, their feet are further back than land-dwelling birds, making them awkward walkers. In the water, however, they are graceful swimmers, flying through the waters on strong, streamlined wings.

These birds look like they are wearing tuxedos. A typical alcid, they are solid black on top and white underneath. 

If you’re thinking penguins, you’ve got a good idea of what the Common Murre looks like in breeding plumage.

Non-breeding adults and immatures have black caps with white cheeks and necks.

While their legs are a hindrance on land, in water they act like a ship’s rudder, steering and propelling them along the ocean surface with grace and speed. 

They roost in groups on rocky cliffs and headlands near the ocean. There are no nests, just a single egg on the cliff itself: on a ledge, in a crevice, or underneath a large boulder. Common Murres may build pebble circles around their “nests”.

Like other sea birds, they eat fish, also taking squid and octopus when they can. Excellent divers, they “fly” through the water propelled by their wings. They may hunt in small flocks, normally diving about 100 feet to catch their prey. 

Common Murres are ocean foragers. They tend to prefer areas where warm and cold ocean currents meet to hunt for food. 

Alcids tend to swim and fly in straight lines. Like most alcids, being heavy-bodied birds, they need a little help on takeoff. They can be seen churning up the waters and “running” across the swells to get airborne.

Interesting Facts & Notes

The eggs are unusual as they are very narrow (almost pointed) at one end and broad and round at the other. The eggs roll around in a circular pattern, ensuring that they won’t roll out of the “nest” and off the cliff.


26. Thick-billed Murre

Scientific Name: Uria lomvia Size: 18 inches

Thick-billed Murres are members of the Alcid family. They spend the majority of their time on open ocean waters rather than land. Like most alcids, their feet are further back than land-dwelling birds, making them awkward walkers.

 On the ocean, however, they are graceful swimmers, flying through the waters on strong, aerodynamic wings.

Thick-billed Murres also have that tuxedo penguin look. They are solid black on top and white underneath. There’s also a slight white gape (space where the bill opens) that can sometimes be seen.

Non-breeding adults and immatures have black caps with white throats. Compared to Common Murre, their bills are much thicker. 

High Arctic breeders, they pair for life. Nests are built on rocky cliffs and headlands near the ocean and are made from piles of rocks and debris stuck together with guano (bird poop). This keeps the egg from falling out of the nest and rolling off the cliff. Thick-billed Murres pack themselves tightly into their nesting sites, with just a bare minimum of space between them.

They are fish eaters, taking fish, squid, crustaceans, and annelids. They are excellent divers, “flying” through the water propelled by their strong wings. Common Murres may hunt in small flocks, normally diving about 100 feet to catch their prey. They have been observed diving 600 + feet in search of food.

Ocean foragers, Thick-billed Murres stay out at sea except when breeding, preferring waters over 100 feet deep or along the continental shelf, further out than Common Murres are usually found.  

Like other alcids, they tend to swim and fly in straight lines and need a little help on takeoff. They can be seen churning up the waters and “running” across the swells to get airborne.

Interesting Facts & Notes

The young of the Thick-billed Murre are fearless. They plunge off their nest cliffs to the sea below even before they learn how to fly, with one of their parents guiding them along the way and bringing them food until they can forage for themselves. 

While their legs are a hindrance on land, in water they act like a ship’s rudder, steering and propelling them along the ocean surface with grace and speed. 


27. Razorbill


Scientific Name: Alca torda Size: 26 inches

Razorbills are stocky alcids with a prominent black bill.

Both males and females are black above and white below (that tuxedo thing again). In breeding plumage, there are thin white strips around the face and bill, and the throats and faces are solid black. Non-breeding plumage loses the bill line and the lower jaw and throats fade to white.

The underwing is white and noticeable in flight.

Their nests are built in cliff crevices, on ledges or underneath large rocks, on islands, mainland cliffs, or rocky coastlines, and contain a single egg. If good nesting spots are not available, they will make one out of small rocks and grass.

Razorbill chicks leave their nests with a full set of flight feathers. They follow their parent to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Using their feathers to slow their descent, they flutter down to the sea where the parent is waiting to swim away with the chicks in tow.

Razorbills love fish, with the occasional crustacean and marine worms for variety. Favorite fish include herring, sand lance, and cod. They forage for their food while swimming underwater, usually up to 20 feet down but may dive to 30 feet below or more.

Razorbills are found on the open ocean, except when nesting, where they prefer sea cliffs. They are often seen on offshore shoals and ledges.

Razorbills are visible from shore in winter along the Atlantic Coast. In Connecticut, look for them from the beaches, breakwaters, and jetties all along the eastern coast of Long Island Sound, but be aware that sometimes there are alcid irruptions that bring down more birds. At these times, Razorbills may be found all along the Connecticut coast.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Whenever winter sends cold currents southward, Razorbills will follow. They have been seen and reported as far south as Florida.

The French name for the Razorbill is “Petit Pengouin” (Little Penguin).


28. Dovekie

Scientific Name: Alle alle Size: 8.25 inches

Another black and white alcid, but a small, chunky one. Adult breeding birds are solid black with a white underbelly, white stripes on their shoulders, and a white stripe across their rump. The bill is very short and stubby, giving them a squashed-in face.

Non-breeding adults have a white patch on their rumps and a black collar against a white throat and neck.

Dovekies have long wings with dark underwings and dark eyes. They are very fast flyers, and their size makes them look like a black and white football zooming across the ocean.

Dovekies nest up to three feet inside crevices on rocky cliffs and islands. The nests consist of a ring of pebbles sometimes lined with grass or lichens.

Dovekies eat plankton, marine invertebrates, and small fish.

Living in the High Arctic presents certain challenges. Dovekies prefer rocky coastal islands and cliffs, and also along the edges of sea ice, utilizing the nooks and crevices as protection from fierce winds and predators.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Dovekies are rare visitors from the High Arctic, only coming down in certain winters. Due to their small size, they will get blown close to shore by storms and prevailing winds. 


29. Common Loon

Scientific Name: Gavia immer Size: 32 inches Wingspan: 46 inches

Large water bird with heavy, thick bills, distinctive breeding plumage, and eerie, yodeling call.

Common Loons have long, heavy bodies and are usually found on lakes all across Connecticut. They are striking birds, with their all-black heads, red eyes, black neck ring on the black-and-white striped neck, and a stunning checkerboard patterned back. This is a breathtakingly beautiful bird!

In winter, their plumage changes to blackish-gray and white and they go from inland to large lakes and coastal waters.

In flight, Common Loons look like they are trailing two large wooden spoons behind them – those are their feet, which stick out behind. They also need a runway to take off, just like a jumbo jet.

Loons only come on land to mate and lay eggs. The nests are built in quiet areas, often on small islands in larger lakes. Common Loons have difficulty maneuvering on land because their legs are more suited to underwater propulsion than walking, being so far back on their bodies, that they construct their nests close to the shore or riverbank.

In summer, in freshwater, the Common Loon’s fishes of choice are sunfish and perch. In winter, on the ocean, it’s a seafood buffet. Loons are consummate water birds and are amazing swimmers, moving like a submarine underwater but way more maneuverable. They can turn on a dime, using their powerful legs to propel them in pursuit of prey. 

Clear lakes, rivers, and streams are the Common Loon’s main habitat, with saltwater shorelines, large lakes, and reservoirs their locations of choice in winter. 

As long as there’s good cover against predators and space for their 747-like takeoff flights, Loons will nest on ponds, lakes, and everyplace else all across Connecticut.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Common Loons are one of the birds that show symptoms of lead poisoning. Old fishing tackle is the cause, and the reason for many bans on the use of lead in sporting equipment, mostly fishing tackle and birdshot.  


rare blackbirds (and Black Birds) in Connecticut

While there have been reports and sightings throughout the state, both Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Brewer’s Blackbirds, along with the occasional Western Meadowlark, are rare visitors to the Nutmeg State. Once sightings hit the wire, you’ll find large groups of bird watchers flocking to get a glimpse of these passerines passing through.

An incredibly rare visitor, there were at least 3 reports of Bullock’s Oriole in Connecticut in 2021. While there have been a few sightings of this Oriole species here, this may be a random case of birds getting blown off course by severe storms. 

A Bridled Tern was seen in 2017 off of Guilford, and a Magnificent Frigatebird in 2016.

Where to see these black birds in Connecticut

In late Spring and all through Summer, you can find these birds in so many places that there are way too many to list here. Good resources are organizations like Connecticut Audubon, whose website contains links to great birding information. They maintain 9 Centers and /or Sanctuaries across the state, so get out there and visit a few of them.

You can also find most of these birds at the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, which is located along the Atlantic Flyway.

Another good source is eBird. They have maps and tons of information on when and where the birds are being seen.

Don’t want or like to go out by yourself in search of birds? Connecticut Audubon’s EcoTravel unit will provide transportation and expert guidance. There are many day trips to see seasonal birds all across the Nutmeg State. 

In Fall and especially Winter, look at saltwater shorelines. There is nothing like the beach in winter for tranquility and great winter birds!

While a spotting scope is an awesome tool for doing sea watches, a decent pair of binoculars will help you locate these awesome birds, especially those species that like being close to shore. 

Hint – check the winds before heading out to look for alcids and sea ducks. If it’s windy, look at marinas and harbors and sheltered areas to find them. They like the calm water just as much as the rough stuff.


I might have missed a blackbird (or black bird) or two, but these lists are a good start to finding and seeing these birds whether they are year-round residents or seasonal visitors to Connecticut.

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