Blackbirds in New Jersey Including Birds with Black Feathers

There are a lot of blackbirds, and also birds with black feathers to be found in New Jersey. We’re going to combine these two topics into one article and call it Blackbirds in New Jersey Including Birds with Black Feathers.

New World 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…

Here’s a listing of 10 species of blackbirds (Icterids) and 20 black birds that you can see throughout New Jersey, along with some fun facts and identification tips on each bird species.

For more birdwatching in New Jersey see our articles on backyard birds, hawks, owls, ducks, and woodpeckers.

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 streaked 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. The eggs are incubated by both parents for about 12 days. The young leave the nest after 14 days.

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 New Jersey in fall and winter in large numbers, with a small population that stays year-round. They are very 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 New Jersey are hotspots for winter 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 Common Grackles, European Starlings, and Brown-headed Cowbirds. These birds are often found together in large flocks.

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

call and song

2. Rusty Blackbird

Scientific Name: Euphagus carolinus                                        Size: 9 inches

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.

Interesting Facts & Notes

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

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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. They have yellow eyes and are larger than a robin. Often they can be seen 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 wooded areas. 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.

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

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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 New Jersey 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.

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 seasonal residents of the New Jersey 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.

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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.

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.

Brown-headed Cowbirds can be found pretty much everywhere except in 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.

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 allowing their eggs to hatch without intruders.

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6. Baltimore Oriole

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 just stunning. 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.

Baltimores are the most common oriole in New Jersey. 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 my 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.

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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 New Jersey, 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 predators and steer clear of bad weather.

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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 invasive species that has a strong foothold in the United States and is probably 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.

Anywhere you look, there are Starlings. These common birds are in the woods, sitting on telephone wires over fields, and roosting in trees in urban neighborhoods.

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 Pigeon” – go ahead, it’s on your New Jersey 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 introduced 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.

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

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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 New Jersey, but the loss of open habitats 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 New Jersey. You can find 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 New Jersey, they are most likely to be found in rural areas, where there are still open meadows and an agricultural field or two for them to forage.

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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, on the 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.

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.

Interesting Facts & Notes

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

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Rare Blackbirds in New Jersey

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 Garden State. Once the sightings hit the wire, you’ll find large groups of bird watchers flocking to get a glimpse of these passerines passing through.

Where to see blackbirds in New Jersey

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.

Regarding Boat-tailed Grackles, the barrier beaches and other marshy areas of the Jersey Shore are great locations to find these noisy birds.

European Starlings are now common backyard birds here, so look on wires surrounding the local parking lot, silhouetted in the tops of trees at the end of the day, or on a local bird feeding station to find them.

Good resources are organizations like New Jersey Audubon and its many local chapters, whose websites contain 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.

Black Birds of New Jersey

Here’s a listing of 20 species of black birds that you can see throughout New Jersey, along with some fun facts and identification tips.

There are a lot of birds with black plumages to be found in New Jersey. Black-plumaged birds run from the obvious Crows to Sea Ducks and birds of prey. Yes, and some of the blackbirds listed above too. I’ve removed those from this second set because we’ve already covered them.

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 it.

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.

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12. American Crow

American Crow in a tree

Scientific Name: Corvus brachyrhynchos               Size: 15.8-20.9 inches

American Crows are not crows at all – they are ravens but have 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.

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

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

Crows remember faces. A famous experiment had some students on a college campus walking around in masks 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 the Crow’s remembered who their enemies are.

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

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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 part of the country 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 their preferred habitat – Fish Crows like the beach, marshes, lakes, and anywhere near water.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Another way to tell Fish and American Crows apart is 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.

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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 can also be heard clacking 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 some suburban locations.

Interesting Facts & Notes

Ravens are highly intelligent and adept at solving complicated puzzles.

Ravens have been guarding the Tower of London for a very long time.

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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 small 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 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. They are also one of the most common backyard birds to come to your yard in winter.

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.

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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, who fly in undulating lines.

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.

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17. Glossy Ibis

Scientific Name: Plegadis falcinellus         Size: 23 Inches                   Wingspan: 36 inches

The most common Ibis in the Northeast, the Glossy Ibis is an all-black wading bird with a distinctive down-curving bill and iridescent, glossy 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 appear to be 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 mud, 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.

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18. Black Scoter                      

Scientific Name: Melanitta nigra                Size: 19 inches

The Black Scoter is the smallest and most compact of the Scoter family. Look for them anywhere along the coast during the winter months.

They 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.

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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 New Jersey is certainly cold in winter.

Males are black on top over a dark brown body, with a distinctive white “comma” 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).

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20. Surf Scoter

Scientific Name: Melanitta perspicillata                  Size: 20 inches

These are the Scoters found 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 Scoter 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.

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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, including residential areas.

There’s always room for one more – Turkey Vultures 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.

While they are often seen squabbling over food, Turkey Vultures will move off to allow other birds to warm up and return if there’s an open space at the heat source. If they’re part of the roost, they do this with Black Vultures too.

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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 white fingers outspread. The tail is also shorter than Turkey Vulture.

They prefer to nest in crevices, hollow logs, and caves, laying their eggs directly on the ground.

All vultures are carrion eaters – Black Vultures are no exception. 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 deceased and the dying.

Black Vultures 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

A 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 down to the carcass. Black Vultures are opportunists and may also be found scrounging around the local dump.

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23. Double-Crested Cormorant

Double-created Cormorant

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

Large black birds with black legs, webbed black feet, and orange chin patches. Juvenile birds usually have pale necks and breasts.

The “double crest” can only be seen on the backs of their heads during the breeding season.

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

Double-crested Cormorants are fish eaters. They dive constantly in search of fish, only stopping to dry off their feathers.

Double-crested Cormorants can be found on or near water, either on larger freshwater bodies or salt water.

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

Cormorant feathers lack the waterproofing of other diving birds and become waterlogged. This is why they sit lower in the water. They have to come out to dry off before they can get back into the water again.

Interesting Facts & Notes

When 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.

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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.  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 in freshwater.

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.

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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. 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.

Common Murres look like they are wearing tuxedos. Like most alcids, 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.

Common Murres nest in groups on rocky cliffs and headlands near the ocean. They don’t build a nest, laying 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”.     

Common Murres eat fish, also taking squid and octopus when they can. They are excellent divers, “flying” through the water propelled by their wings. Common Murres may hunt in small flocks, normally diving about 100 feet to catch their prey, sometimes much deeper.

They also 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 – they are 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.

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26. Thick-billed Murre

Scientific Name: Uria lomvia                       Size: 18 inches

Thick-billed Murres are Alcids. They spend most of their time on open ocean waters rather than land. Like other alcids, their feet are positioned further back on their bodies than land-dwelling birds, making them awkward walkers.

In water they are graceful swimmers, flying through the ocean on strong, streamlined wings. They use their legs like a ship’s rudder, steering and propelling them along the ocean surface with speed and grace.

Thick-billed Murres have that tuxedo penguin look: 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.

Thick-billed Murres are Arctic breeders, building nests on rocky cliffs near the ocean from piles of rocks and debris stuck together with guano (bird poop) and packing themselves tightly into their nesting sites with just a bare minimum of space between them.

Thick-billed Murres are ocean foragers; staying 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. Excellent divers, they search for fish, squid, crustaceans, and annelids; often in depths of 600 feet or more.

They also tend to swim and fly in straight lines. Alcids are heavy-bodied birds 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 Thick-billed Murre’s young are fearless, plunging off nest cliffs to the sea below even before they learn how to fly, with one parent guiding them along the way and bringing them food until they can forage for themselves.

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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 (yes, the 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 throat fade to white.

The underwing is white and noticeable in flight.

Razorbills don’t breed until they are around 4-5 years old. Their nests are built in cliff crevices, on ledges or underneath large rocks, on islands, mainland cliffs, or rocky coastlines. There is usually only one egg in the nest.

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 includes 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.

While they are mostly found in Iceland and the Gulf of Maine, Razorbills are visible from shore in winter along the Atlantic Coast. In New Jersey, look for them from the beaches, breakwaters, and jetties all along the 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).

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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 winter. On occasion, they will get blown close to shore by storms and prevailing winds.

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29. Black Guillemot

Scientific Name: Cepphus grylle                                Size: 13 inches

A duck-sized, round-bodied alcid, found in pairs or small groups along cold, rocky shorelines. These alcids are occasional winter visitors to New Jersey.

Adult breeding birds are solid black with a predominant white wing patch. Non-breeding birds and mostly white with dark backs and rumps (the white wing patch still stands out).

No matter what plumage they are in, all birds have black bills, white underwings, and red legs and feet.

Black Guillemot nest on rocky coasts, usually in cliff crevices above the high tide mark. They may also utilize tree roots and old puffin burrows.

While small fish captured and eaten underwater are the mainstays of the Black Guillemot diet, they also prey on a wide variety of marine life, including jellyfish, sponges, worms, squid, mollusks, and small crustaceans.

Black Guillemots are found along rocky coasts close to shore. They like to forage in cold waters, diving for food on shallow sea floors.

While the Maine coast is the best place to find Black Guillemots, they do occasionally show up in New Jersey waters during the winter. Look in inlets and around jetties for them.

Interesting Facts & Notes

It is believed that the Black Guillemot got its name from the French for “William” (Guillaume).

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30. 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. 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 underwater 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.

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 some sporting equipment, mostly fishing tackle and birdshot. 

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Where to see these black birds in New Jersey

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 New Jersey Audubon and their numerous local chapters. You can also find most of these birds at the National Wildlife Refuges in the state.

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

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

Places like the Atlantic Coast and large rivers and harbors are perfect locations to search for sea ducks and alcids.

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’m sure I may have missed a blackbird or a black bird or two, but this is a good start to finding and seeing these New Jersey birds.

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