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18 Types of Black Birds in North Carolina (With Pictures)

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male baltimore oriole perched

North Carolina is home to several avian species, and the state has no shortage of black birds, including the species simply called “blackbird.” Blackbirds belong to the Icteridae family, and although some species are beloved by birdwatchers for their bright colors and pleasant songs, they are considered pests when they travel in large flocks and damage agricultural lands.

In March 1969, the small town of Scotland Neck was invaded by up to 11 million blackbirds that darkened the skies for nearly 3 months. Residents had to use umbrellas when they stepped outdoors, and the flock was so massive that it reduced visibility in the town. Scientists are still perplexed about the event, and the reason for the birds’ visit has not been determined.

hummingbird divider

The 18 Types of Blackbirds in North Carolina:

1. Baltimore Oriole

Image Credit: MillionPM, Pixabay
Wingspan 9.1–11.8 inches
Length  7.9–9.1 inches
Conservation Status Low concern

The black color of orioles is limited to the male’s head and flight feathers and the female’s flight feathers, but the bright orange breast (females have yellow/orange breasts) and tail feathers of the species make them some of the most gorgeous songbirds in the world.

Baltimore orioles are not year-round residents of North Carolina, but you’ll see them during the breeding season in western counties and the early spring in eastern regions when they migrate. Orioles consume insects when available, but their favorite treat is fruit. You can attract colorful birds to your yard by hanging orange halves in your yard. They also love crab apples, trumpet vines, and raspberries.

2. Boat-Tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed grackle
Image Credit: Wilfred Marissen, Shutterstock
Wingspan 15.3­–19.7 inches
Length 10.2–14.6 inches
Conservation Status Low concern

Boat-tailed grackles live in coastal towns in North Carolina all year, but you’re unlikely to see them when you head inland away from the ocean. Males have blue-black plumage, but like many birds, the female has such a different appearance that she looks like a separate species. Females are half the size of males and have dark-brown feathers.

Grackles prefer marshy habitats on the eastern coast of the United States, but they’ve adapted to human developments by feeding on the decaying food that they find in trash bins. Some suggest that they also stay close to urban areas to protect themselves from predators. Although some birds perish when they fall from the nest into a pond or lake, boat-tailed grackle fledglings use their wings like paddles to swim if they accidentally fall into the water.

3. Bobolink

Bobolink perched on fence
Image Credit: Derek Robertson, Shutterstock
Wingspan 10.6 inches
Length 5.9–8.3 inches
Conservation Status Declining

Male bobolinks are primarily black with white highlights on their wings and a yellow patch on the back of their heads. Females have yellow-brown chests with black-and-white wings. Bobolinks live in South America’s overgrown fields and tall grasslands, but they migrate in massive flocks, and you’re most likely to see the birds in North Carolina in May.

Every year, the species travels over 12,500 miles to and from South America. Unfortunately, bobolinks do not eat seeds from feeders, but if you have a field of seed-bearing weeds, you might see the birds foraging on the ground.

4. Brewer’s Blackbird

brewer’s blackbird on the ground
Image Credit: ArtTower, Pixabay
Wingspan 14.6 inches
Length 7.9–8.7 inches
Conservation Status Steep decline

The Brewer’s blackbird is not a common sight in North Carolina, but you may see them during their spring and fall migration from Canada. The birds often form colonies of 100 birds when nesting, and in the past, farmers often poisoned or shot the birds to protect their crops.

However, Brewer’s blackbirds prefer insects more than grains, and they’re credited with saving cropland when their flocks feed on weevils, grasshoppers, termites, tent caterpillars, and cutworms. The male appears primarily black from a distance, but when examined closely, you’ll see midnight blue and metallic green mixed in with the glossy black. Females have duller gray and black plumage.

5. Bronzed Cowbird

female Bronzed Cowbird perched
Image Credit: Stubblefield Photography, Shutterstock
Wingspan 13 inches
Length 7.9 inches
Conservation Status Low concern

Like the brown-headed cowbird, the bronzed cowbird is notorious for leaving its eggs in other species’ nests. Approximately 101 species of birds are victims of “brood parasites” from bronzed cowbirds. Males and females have brilliant red eyes, but the male has black feathers with iridescent purple and blue wings, and the female has dark-gray plumage.

The cowbird’s unorthodox parenting practices must be well known to other birds because Northern mockingbirds, hooded orioles, and Couch’s kingbirds are incredibly aggressive when cowbirds enter their territories. In North Carolina, the bronzed cowbird isn’t common, but it can be spotted in coastal regions in the east.

6. Brown-Headed Cowbird

Brown-Headed Cowbird on the ground
Image Credit: Bernell, Pixabay
Wingspan 14.2 inches
Length 6.3–7.9 inches
Conservation Status Low concern

Unlike the bronzed cowbird, the brown-headed cowbird is a year-round resident of North Carolina, but they are more visible to observers in the summer. Female cowbirds have gray and dark gray feathers, and the males have brown heads and blue-black bodies.

They’re noisy birds with an impressive vocal range, and you’ll often see them foraging on the ground for seeds and insects near fields, lawns, and meadows. Neither the male nor female expend energy building nests because the female deposits her eggs in another bird’s nest and expects it to raise her young.

7. Bullock’s Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole
Image Credit: PublicDomainImages, Pixabay
Wingspan 12.2 inches
Length 6.7–7.5 inches
Conservation Status Low concern

Bullock’s orioles are rarely seen in North Carolina; they breed in the western states and move south to Mexico in winter. However, some have been spotted in the state in the spring. Males have yellow-orange heads (except for the black streak on top) and breasts with black-and-white flight feathers. Females have dull yellow breasts and heads with gray-and-white wings.

Like the Baltimore oriole, the Bullock’s oriole loves fruit and insects like caterpillars found in trees and shrubs. They’re notorious for raiding the sugar water from hummingbird feeders and generally ignore backyard feeders with seeds.

8. Common Grackle

common grackle on the rock
Image Credit: Jo Kleeb, Shutterstock
Wingspan 14.2–18.1 inches
Length 11–13.4 inches
Conservation Status Steep decline

Some common grackles migrate farther south for the winter, but others stay in North Carolina all year. They’re more visible during the summertime, and you’re likely to see them visit your property if you have birdfeeders stocked with seed. Females look solid black but have a few patches of purple and green on their backs.

Males have green-blue heads, gold-and-black breasts, and purple-and-blue flight feathers. No other species threatens corn crops in the United States more than the common grackle. They can cause extensive damage to cornfields when they gather in flocks and feed on mature corn and corn sprouts.

9. Eastern Meadowlark

male Eastern Meadowlark perched
Image Credit: Gualberto Becerra, Shutterstock
Wingspan 13.8–15.8 inches
Length 7.5–10.2 inches
Conservation Status Steep decline

With a distinctive black chevron across their vibrant yellow chests, the Eastern meadowlarks are attractive songbirds that often perch on telephone poles and fenceposts to sing in the summer. When they forage for insects on the ground, the birds’ black-and-brown back feathers hide them among the dry grasses and dark soil of farmlands and grasslands.

Despite its name, the meadowlark is a blackbird rather than a member of the Alaudidae (lark) family. Meadowlarks are not interested in monogamy, and the males sometimes have two mates at a time. Small family farms and prairie lands have been replaced by row-cropping in the eastern United States, and since they were the primary habitats of meadowlarks, the species is in a steep decline. Meadowlark populations have declined by over 75% since 1966.

10.  European Starling

european starling bird on a bench
Image Credit: GAIMARD, Pixabay
Wingspan 12.2-15.8 inches
Length 7.9–9.1 inches
Conservation Status Low concern

The European starling changes its appearance in the winter and summer. In the summer, the bird appears almost black with iridescent purple and blue accents, but in the winter, its feathers develop white spots and turn brown. European starlings travel in flocks to forage, and you may see them invade your lawn.

They’re noisy birds that imitate other species, such as the Northern flicker, red-tailed hawk, wood thrush, Northern bobwhite, and American robin. The starlings have a massive range than extends to nearly every region of North America. The birds were introduced to the continent in the 1890s, when a spirited group of Shakespeare enthusiasts released 100 starlings in Central Park in New York.

11.  Hooded Oriole

Hooded Oriole
Image Credit: MelaniWright, Shutterstock
Wingspan 9.1–11 inches
Length 7.1–7.9 inches
Conservation Status Low concern

Like other orioles, the hooded oriole is an acrobatic forager that often hangs upside down from shrub branches to feed on nectar and insects. It prefers habitats with willows, sycamores, cottonwoods, and palm trees.

Females have olive-yellow breasts and backs with gray-and-white flight feathers. Males have bright, orange breasts with black-and-white flight feathers. Hooded orioles breed in the eastern United States and sometimes migrate to Mexico during the winter. They’re not common in North Carolina, but you can spot the birds in the late spring or summer.

12. Orchard Oriole

Orchard oriole
Image Credit: JeffCaverly, Shutterstock
Wingspan 9.8 inches
Length 5.9–7.1 inches
Conservation Status Low concern

Orchard orioles visit North Carolina to breed, and you’re most likely to see them between April and August. Unlike the bright orange and yellows of other male orioles, the orchard oriole has a darker rusty-orange breast and black head.

Females have yellow breasts and backs with gray-and-brown flight feathers. If you have fruit trees in your yard, you may see an orchard oriole raiding your harvest, but the birds also enjoy foraging for insects and spiders. You can attract the temporary visitors to your yard with orange halves, oriole feeders, and mulberry bushes.

13. Red-Winged Blackbird

red-winged blackbird
Image Credit: Meister199, Pixabay
Wingspan 12.2–15.8 inches
Length 6.7–9.1 inches
Conservation Status Low concern

Although some blackbirds are difficult to identify, the red-winged blackbirds, especially the males, are hard to miss. While females have dark brown plumage with lighter-colored breasts, the males have glossy black heads and breasts with yellow-and-red patches on the shoulders. They’re beautiful creatures and one of the most abundant songbirds in North America.

The birds congregate around standing water to breed and forage, and you’ll often see them in the summer near cattail marshes and rugged wetlands. Red-winged blackbird males can have up to 15 mates at one time, and the birds are considered a “highly polygynous” species because of their prolific mating practices.

14. Rusty Blackbird

female Rusty Blackbird on the ground
Image Credit: Paul Reeves Photography, Shutterstock
Wingspan 14.6 inches
Length 8.3–9.8 inches
Conservation Status Steep decline

Rusty blackbirds spend the winter in the eastern United States, and they prefer foraging on the ground in flocks. Although the birds are civil when feeding on the ground beside grackles, red-winged blackbirds, and European starlings, they’re one of the few songbirds that prey on other birds. They typically feast on robins, snipes, and sparrows.

Males have glossy black feathers with rusty tips and iridescent accents, and females have brown plumage with darker feathers around their eyes. The rusty blackbird population in North America has decreased by approximately 85% to 99% since the mid-1980s. Researchers are unclear why the species has declined so rapidly.

15.  Scott’s Oriole

Scott's Oriole
Image Credit: Agami Photo Agency, Shutterstock
Wingspan 12.6 inches
Length 9.1 inches
Conservation Status Low concern

Scott’s orioles are native to Baja California and southern Mexico, but they breed in the southeastern United States. However, although they have been spotted in the Tar Heel State, they’re rarely seen. Males have black heads with bright yellow breasts and black-and-white flight feathers, while females have duller, olive-colored breasts with gray-and-black wings and an olive head.

Scott’s orioles feed on the nectar of fruits and insects much like other orioles, but they also prey on monarch butterflies. The toxins in monarchs can kill most birds, but Scott’s orioles have learned to target the butterfly’s abdomen to avoid poisoning.

16. Shiny Cowbird

Image Credit: DickDaniels, via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 
Wingspan 11.8 inches
Length 7.1 inches
Conservation Status Low concern

Like its relatives, the female shiny cowbird allows other species to raise her offspring after she sneaks into a nest to drop her eggs. Females have dull gray plumage, and males have glossy black feathers with iridescent purple-blue accents.

Although their parenting skills are not impressive, they’re social creatures that travel in flocks of 100–200 birds. However, they do not seem fond of humans, as they have joined other blackbirds in flocks to attack people.

17.  Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark Perched on a Fence Post
Image Credit: Kerry Hargrove, Shutterstock
Wingspan 16.1 inches
Length 6.3–10.2 inches
Conservation Status Low concern

Although some populations of western meadowlarks live permanently in the Midwest and western states, some groups migrate to the southern states in the winter. Both sexes have bright yellow breasts with brown-and-black wings and a black V pattern on their chests. The songbirds forage in fields, meadows, grasslands, and near marshland.

They’re usually hidden in the brush, but the males are more visible when they perch on fenceposts to sing. They have been spotted in North Carolina for several years.

18. Yellow-Headed Blackbird

Yellow-Headed Blackbird
Image Credit: Kenneth Rush, Shutterstock
Wingspan 16.5–17.3 inches
Length 8.3–10.2 inches
Conservation Status Low concern

Yellow-headed blackbirds have bright yellow chests and heads with a black patch around the eyes and black wings. Although they’re rarely seen in North Carolina, they’re more common than western meadowlarks.

Males can command a large territory with several of their mates’ nests positioned near each other. They can have up to eight mates at a time, and the dads assist in feeding all the hatchlings for a short time, but they eventually leave the area and depend on the females to feed the young.

hummingbird divider Conclusion

Since some species, like the shiny cowbird, can get incredibly rowdy when gathering in flocks near human developments, blackbird birdwatching is more appealing when you can study a single bird or a small group. If blackbirds have disrupted your garden or landscaped areas, you may not be fond of them, but they can also benefit your yard. If your property is overrun with insects in the summer, blackbirds can quickly reduce the population.

Featured Image Credit: Jay Gao, Shutterstock

About the Author Christopher Bays

Christopher Bays is a writer and editor from North Carolina who enjoys researching and writing about pets. After caring for a Siamese cat for 19 years, he adopted a Russian Blue mix named Olga. Olga stays by his side while he’s working and is skilled at opening doors and causing mayhem. When he’s not working, Christopher is happiest when he’s working in his garden, writing short stories, hiking, and listening to the Grateful Dead.