12 Blackbirds in Delaware

There are a lot of birds with black plumages to be found in Delaware. There are also a lot of blackbirds in Delaware.

Blackbirds are members of the Icterid family, which includes Orioles, Meadowlarks, Bobolinks, Grackles, and Cowbirds. Blackbirds are birds with predominantly black plumage. Many icterids have black plumage. You’ll find quite a few of those Icterids in our article “Black Birds in Delaware”, including the most numerous blackbirds in Delaware, the Red-winged Blackbird.

Here’s a listing of 12 species of blackbirds (Icterids) that you can see throughout Delaware, along with some fun facts and identification tips.

For more birdwatching in Delaware see our articles on Backyard Birds, Owls, Hawks, Woodpeckers, and Ducks.

1. Red-winged Blackbird

Scientific Name: Agelaius phoeniceus                       Size: 6.7 to 9.1 inches

Description and Field Marks

The male Red-winged Blackbird is a large black Icterid. 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 streaked sparrow with a more finch-like, thick bill.

Red-winged blackbirds are usually active during the day, but they may be seen at night near lights.

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. They also have black, brown, and purple speckles all over them. They are incubated by both parents for about 12 days. The young leave the nest after 14 days.

They 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.

The red-winged blackbird is a migratory bird that is found in Delaware in fall and winter in large numbers, with a small population that stays year-round. They are very common in many of our backyards. You can also see them in reeds along beaches, marshes, and around lakes. They have even been found in urban areas.

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

Bird Notes

You’ve heard the expression “Birds of a feather flock together”? Always check flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds for Common Grackles, European Starlings, and Brown-headed Cowbirds. These birds are often found together in large flocks.

Red-winged blackbirds can often be heard singing from a perch high in a tree or on power lines.

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

Song and Call

2. Rusty Blackbird

Scientific Name: Euphagus carolinus                                          Size: 9 inches

Description and Field Marks

A black bird with rusty feathers, slightly larger and slimmer than 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.

While other Blackbirds like to flock together, Rusty Blackbirds like to stay in much smaller groups.

Bird Notes

Rusty Blackbird populations are the most rapidly declining in the United States.

Song and Call

3. Yellow-headed Blackbird

Scientific Name: Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus               Size: 9.5 inches

Description and Field Marks

Large blackbird with a stout body, large head, and long, cone-shaped bill.

Males have black bodies with brilliant yellow heads and breasts. They have a white patch on their wings, more noticeable in flight, which appears as a sliver of white along their sides.

Females are dark brown, with yellow around the face and throat. Immature males are a cross between male and female – a yellow head with brown streaking, a yellow chest, and a dull brown body.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds build their nests in shallow marshes and wetlands, always over water. They weave grasses and strands of wet vegetation around supporting stems of cattails, reeds, and bulrushes to form a cup big enough to hold 2 to 5 eggs.

The tiny Marsh Wren is a huge predator of Yellow-headed Blackbird eggs, along with other mark dwellers like gulls, Common Grackles, and American Bitterns.

Blackbirds are mostly insect eaters during the summer months and survive on seeds for the rest of the year. They have been known to flip over stones to locate food.

When not in the breeding season, Yellow-headed Blackbirds are found moving between grasslands, prairies, and farmland gleaning seeds from crops like sunflowers, corn, and small grains.

In breeding season, they move to wetlands, shallow marshes, and reedy ponds. They will displace their smaller Red-winged Blackbird cousins and Marsh Wrens from the best nesting spots in the marsh.

Bird Notes

Fossils of Yellow-headed Blackbirds have been found in California, New Mexico, and Utah dating back 100,000 years.

song and call

4. Brewer’s Blackbird

Scientific Name Euphagus cyanocephalus                              Size 8 inches

Description and Field Marks

Male Brewer’s Blackbirds are medium-sized birds with entirely black plumage. They have a glossy purple-blue iridescence to their heads, a metallic green sheen on their bodies, and pale eyes.

They really stand out when seen in sunlight. The glossy combination of black, dark blue, and metallic green feathers gleams brilliantly in full sun.

Female Brewer’s Blackbirds are dark gray with dark eyes and while they have some blue-green iridescence on their bodies, are nowhere as noticeable as the males. Both sexes have sharply-pointed bills.

Brewer’s Blackbirds usually nest in trees but may also build a nest on the ground in taller grasses. The nest is a bulky cup made of twigs, grass, and pine needles lined with soft grass and animal hair.

Brewer’s Blackbirds feed on mostly insects and seeds. In summer, they seek out berries for a change of pace.

The birds forage in shallow water and in fields searching for food and have been observed following farm machinery to see what has been turned up.

Brewer’s Blackbirds are accidental visitors to Delaware but have recently been found near Kent in 2021.

Bird Notes

Brewer’s Blackbirds resemble Common Grackles. How to tell the difference? Look at heads and tails.

Common Grackles are larger birds, with long tails and thicker bills. And male Common Grackles have a blue sheen to their heads while the Brewer’s Blackbirds display a purple sheen.

song and call

5. Common Grackle

common grackle

Scientific Name: Quiscalus quiscula                            Size: 11 to 15.4 inches

Description and Field Marks

The Common Grackle is part of the blackbird family and all blackbirds have 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 shiny black feathers. They have yellow eyes and their size is larger than a robin. You can see them often 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.

Grackles are omnivores and 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 find at farm fields where they will eat the seeds from corn and rice.

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

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

Bird Notes

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

Song and call

6. Boat-tailed Grackle

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

Description and Field Marks

Large blackbird with dark eyes and an elongated tail. Boat-tailed Grackles are coastal birds.

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.

Boat-tailed Grackles nest in reeds, cattails, and tall grasses around marshes, building their nests high enough from rising waters 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.

Boat-tailed Grackles are year-round residents of the Delaware coast. They are found all along the Atlantic Coast and never venture far from salt water (except in Florida, where they are everywhere).

Bird Notes

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

song and call

7. Brown-headed Cowbird

Scientific Name: Molothrus ater                  Size: 7.5 inches

Description and Field Marks

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 birds. 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.

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 own 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 household feeders.

Brown-headed Cowbirds can be found pretty much everywhere but heavy forests. They got their name by foraging among herds of grazing buffalo and cattle.

In Winter, Brown-headed Cowbirds can be found among the large flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and European Starlings.

Bird 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 allowing their own eggs to hatch without intruders.

Song and call

8. Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole sitting on a branch

Scientific Name: Icterus galbula                   Size: 6.5 to 8 inches

Description and Field Marks

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, and not just because it happens to be the mascot of that baseball team in Maryland (loved Boog and Brooks and Cal, but I’m a Yankee fan).

The Baltimore oriole is a medium-sized icterid. The blackheads and wings, magnificent orange body feathers, and yellow underparts on the male Baltimore Oriole are just stunning. The male oriole also has a large patch of orange 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 one spot on each side of her head. The female is duller than the male and sometimes appears yellow with a brownish tinge to the black feathers.

The Baltimore Oriole eats insects and worms. They are also common visitors to feeders, where they will eat fruit (they love oranges!) and suet, grape jelly, and nectar.


The Baltimore oriole nests in the tops of trees, usually elm or maple. It makes its woven, hanging nest from grapevine, bark, and grasses and uses spider silk to tie the whole thing together. The female lays three or four eggs that are pale blue with brown spots. She incubates the eggs for 10 days, and then both parents take turns feeding the nestlings.

The young orioles leave the nest when they are about 12 days old. They continue to be fed by their parents for another 10 to 14 days.

Baltimore Orioles are the most common oriole seen in Delaware. 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 (Gray Catbirds, Downy Woodpeckers, and the occasional Blue Jay are my other birds that love this spread).

Bird Notes

For some odd reason, Baltimore Orioles prefer darker-colored fruit than other fruit-eating species like robins.

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

song and call

9. Orchard Oriole

Scientific Name: Icterus spurius                   Size: 5.9 to 7.1 inches

Description and Field Marks

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 on 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 Delaware, you can find Orchard Orioles from about April to July, and oddly, more in the northern part of the state than in the southern portion. They are early migrants, heading back down to Mexico, Central, and the Caribbean.

Bird Notes

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

Song and call

10. European Starling

Scientific Name: Sturnus vulgaris                Size: 8.5 inches

Description and Field Marks

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

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

Starlings have the ability to 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 a blackbird.

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

Starlings 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 Dove” – go ahead, it’s on your Delaware 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.

Bird 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 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.

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

song and call

11. Eastern Meadowlark

Scientific Name: Sturnella magna                               Size: 7.5 to 10 inches

Description and Field Marks

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 Delaware, 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 Delaware. You can find them perched on tall grasses and posted 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.

Bird Notes

Although they can sing over 100 different songs, one of the most common 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 Delaware, they are most likely to be found in rural areas, where there are still open meadows and fields for them to forage.

song and call

12. Bobolink

Scientific Name: Dolichonyx oryzivorus                    Size: 7 inches

Description and Field Marks

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

Female Bobolinks are buffy overall with brown striping on the wings, a large pink bill, and a pale nape.

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

Bobolinks are ground nesters. They 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.

Bird Notes

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

Song and call

Where to see blackbirds in Delaware

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 Delaware Audubon, whose website contains links to places all over the state. You can also find most of these birds at the National Wildlife Refuges throughout the state.

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

I may have missed a blackbird or two, but this is a good start to finding and seeing the icterids that visit Delaware.

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