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12 Types of Blackbirds in Kansas (With Pictures)

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Yellow-headed Blackbird male (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

Kansas is well known for its diversified collection of bird species. With over 225 bird species in the state alone, you can see all kinds of colors pass through the sky and visit backyards. 

You might not think of a blackbird as beautiful or colorful, but they have more colors than people think. They also have different behavior than other bird species. Blackbirds find their strength in numbers—a big reason you’ll see many in large groups.

Today, we’re sharing 12 types of blackbirds commonly found in Kansas. These birds vary from year-round dwellers to tourists. No matter how long they stay, you’re bound to see one eventually if you watch and listen closely. 

hummingbird divider What Classifies a Blackbird?

When you picture a blackbird, you probably think about the standard American Crow or perhaps a raven. But it’s not enough for a bird to have black plumage. The bird has to be categorized into specific subcategories. In biology, this is called taxonomy. 

There are eight levels that scientists use to group particular creatures together, such as:

  • Species
  • Genus
  • Family
  • Order
  • Class
  • Phylum
  • Kingdom
  • Domain

Each level gets more specific as it goes. To classify as a blackbird, the bird must be in the Icteridae family and a part of the Passeriformes order. There are 12 types of blackbirds commonly found in Kansas, and not all of them are entirely black. Let us take a closer look at these 12 blackbirds (and see if you recognize them). 

binoculars 3 divider The 12 Types of Blackbirds in Kansas

1. Red-winged Blackbird

red-winged blackbird
Image Credit: Meister199, Pixabay
Conservation Status Low concern
Scientific name Agelaius phoeniceus

Let’s start with the Red-winged Blackbird. The Red-winged Blackbird is what it is—a blackbird with a red stripe on the wing. But only the males get to enjoy this beautiful feature. Red-winged Blackbirds are not as well known as the American Crow. But you may recognize the “oka-lee” sound it makes with a slight screech at the end. 

You can find Red-winged Blackbirds on roadsides after a good rainfall, on top of telephone lines, and even on top of cattails. If you see any, it is good to keep your distance from these birds, as the males can become very territorial. They take their nesting seriously. Some bird species choose one life partner, and some choose several. The Red-winged Blackbird prefers to have several female partners—sometimes 15 at a time!

2. Common Grackle

common grackle on the rock
Image Credit: Jo Kleeb, Shutterstock
Conservation Status Steep decline
Scientific name Quiscalus quiscula

You might think a Common Grackle is a raven or crow from far away, but these birds have dark blue and black heads with bronze and black wings. The males like to puff out their feathers and quickly draw them in when they’re singing, unlike crows and ravens. They sound different too, almost like a rusty gate opening and closing slightly. 

If you ever see a scarecrow in a cornfield, it’s not scaring crows. Common Grackles are the primary culprit. These birds love fresh corn on the stalk and can be quite a nuisance for farmers, sometimes causing millions of dollars in damage. They’ll feast on mice, leeches, worms, and even adult birds if they can’t get corn.

3. Brown-Headed Cowbird

brown-headed cowbird
Image Credit: milesmoody, Pixabay
Conservation Status Low concern
Scientific name Molothrus ater

Brown-headed Cowbirds are one of the most interesting blackbirds in Kansas. They have a unique method for raising their young. Instead of building a nest like other birds, Brown-headed Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, leaving the foster bird to raise their young. This gives a female Brown-headed Cowbird time to lay up to three dozen eggs in one summer. 

Usually, some of the foster bird’s eggs suffer because she’s left feeding more birds than she expected. For this reason, Brown-headed Cowbirds are responsible for endangering smaller songbird species. If you have any livestock, including backyard chickens, it’s wise to watch this bird.

4. Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark Perched on a Fence Post
Image Credit: Kerry Hargrove, Shutterstock
Conservation Status Low concern
Scientific name Sturnella neglecta

The Western Meadowlark is the star of the show. It became the Kansas state bird on January 29th, 1925, winning a resounding 125,000 votes. 

This medium-sized bird has a flat head, slender bill, and chunky body. The most notable feature of the Western Meadowlark is the sunny-yellow belly and face. In fact, its warm yellow color was a big reason it was voted the state bird in the first place. Kansas is the sunflower state, so what better bird represents the golden goodness? You also can’t get enough of their whistle, a flute-like call that sounds like R2D2. 

It’s unlikely you’ll see a Western Meadowlark in the city. They prefer the open ground to find their food and lay their eggs. This is probably a good thing since Western Meadowlarks are known for abandoning their nests if they sense any danger. 

5. Eastern Meadowlark

male Eastern Meadowlark perched
Image Credit: Gualberto Becerra, Shutterstock
Conservation Status Steep decline
Scientific name Sturnella manga

The Eastern Meadowlark looks and sounds very similar to the Western Meadowlark, so much so that people often confuse the two. Like Western Meadowlarks, Eastern Meadowlarks occupy the open ground, searching for insects, worms, and safe places to nest. But instead of living in the western part of the state, Eastern Meadowlarks reside in the east. 

There are also physical differences between Eastern and Western Meadowlarks, but it’s difficult to tell from far away. Instead, you have to consider where you are in the state. Eastern and Western Meadowlarks refuse to share the same territory. Rarely will you see these two birds mate together, although it’s possible. 

6. Baltimore Oriole 

baltimore oriole
Image Credit: diapicard, Pixabay
Conservation Status Low concern
Scientific name Icterus galbula

Baltimore Orioles have eye-catching plumage, with dark black on top and bright orange on the underbelly. Their plumage gave them their name since their colors resemble England’s Baltimore family crest. 

These birds only come to Kansas to breed, so you won’t find them year-round. They often breed with Bullock Orioles since both birds meet in the Great Plains. For a while, both birds were deemed the same species. But testing proved these birds are different.  

If you have any mulberry trees or dark-colored fruit in your yard, you’ll see a Baltimore Oriole at some point. They love dark-colored ripe fruit but will take handouts of any fruit, including oranges and jelly. 

7. Great-tailed Grackle 

Great-Tailed Grackle on the grass
Image Credit: RBCKPICTURES, Pixabay
Conservation Status Low concern
Scientific name Quiscalus mexicanus

Male Great-tailed Grackles are slender black birds with long black tails. They have a dark purple in their feathers that shimmers throughout the day. You’ll often see Great-tailed Grackles on lawns, golf courses, open fields, and even marshes down south surrounded by other blackbirds. In the evening, they enjoy congregating in trees. Luckily, Great-tailed Grackles are year-round in Kansas, so you’ve likely already seen one. 

Some people find the Great-tailed Grackle’s call annoying. It’s certainly interesting, almost like an old-school video game. Researchers have noticed female Grackles sending a warning call to the other Grackles as the researchers draw near their territory. 

8. Orchard Oriole 

Orchard oriole
Image Credit: JeffCaverly, Shutterstock
Conservation Status Low concern
Scientific name Icterus spurius

The Orchard Oriole is a small, robust bird with black plumage on top and glowing orange plumage on the underbelly. In fact, the Orchard Oriole is the smallest in North America. They use the Great Plains as their breeding ground, although they don’t stay very long. For this reason, scientists have difficulty distinguishing breeding birds from migrating birds.

If you see an Orchard Oriole, you will likely see a group nesting in a tree near river edges. These beautiful birds have a classic bird whistle and love to feed on nectar and pollen from flowers. But if you have lots of insects in your backyard, you may have a group visit for lunch. 

9. Yellow-Headed Blackbird

Yellow-Headed Blackbird
Image Credit: Kenneth Rush, Shutterstock
Conservation Status Low concern
Scientific name Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus

The Yellow-headed Blackbird will easily catch your attention with its fluffy yellow head and layered black body. Their call is equally distinguishable, sounding like an uneven grind that causes a lot of dissonance in the ear. 

Yellow-headed Blackbirds aren’t year-round in Kansas. They breed in the upper north corners of the state and into Colorado, then migrate south toward the edge of Texas. It’s not easy to see this bird, either. They prefer to perch on cattails and reeds out of sight from people. So, you’ll have to be a good listener to find these birds. 

10. Rusty Blackbird

female Rusty Blackbird on the ground
Image Credit: Paul Reeves Photography, Shutterstock
Conservation Status Steep decline
Scientific name Euphagus carolinus

Male Rusty Blackbirds have speckled rust-colored spotting on their face and a little on their wings. The rest of their body is shimmering black plumage. The females actually have more rust coloring all over their heads. 

These birds have a sharp, flute-like call, but you’ll unlikely hear any near your home. The Rusty Blackbird population has declined severely, with an estimated 85%–99% lost over the past 40 years. Scientists are unsure about what is causing the steep decline. 

11. Brewer’s Blackbird

brewer’s blackbird on the ground
Image Credit: ArtTower, Pixabay
Conservation Status Steep decline
Scientific name Euphagus cyanocephalus

The Brewer’s Blackbird has sleek black plumage with a long black tail. Their feathers glisten in the sun, revealing midnight blue and metallic green undertones. Brewer’s Blackbirds only spend their nonbreeding season in Kansas, then travel north to breed. When they visit, you can find them congregating in large groups in trees, shrubs, sidewalks, and parks. They often hang out with the Common Grackle.

Unfortunately, Brewer’s Blackbirds are susceptible to poisoning because they enjoy feeding on agricultural crops. However, their biggest appetite is for insects, so they could help protect crops rather than destroy them. 

12. Bobolink

Bobolink perched on fence
Image By: Derek Robertson, Shutterstock
Conservation Status Declining
Scientific name Dolichonyx oryzivorus

The Bobolink is one of the more interesting-looking blackbirds in Kansas. They have an orange afro on their head with black and white plumage on the rest of their bodies. The females don’t have the orange afro. Instead, they have muted-yellow heads with tan, black, and yellow bodies. 

The Bobolink’s call is just as entertaining- sweet, bubbly, and full of life. You’ll only hear or see the Bobolink in Kansas as they migrate to South America. They make this long trip every year, traveling an impressive 12,500 miles.

Bobolinks prefer to nest and feed in grasslands and perch on grass stems. They also love eating grains, so it makes sense why they’d migrate through the Great Plains. Bobolinks like to feed during the day like most birds, but they’ll feed at night when they’re migrating to preserve fat storage for their long trek to South America. 

hummingbird divider Conclusion

Blackbirds are unlike other bird types. They work together to find food, shelter, and companionship. They can be a nuisance sometimes, so you have to be careful with how many blackbirds you choose to attract to your yard. 

But you might not have to attract any at all. Blackbirds are highly intelligent and find ways to fill their bellies, whatever the cost. It’s an admirable trait that shows us we have to stick together in the hardest of times. Who knew a blackbird could teach us so much?

See also:

Featured Image Credit: Don Mammoser, Shutterstock

About the Author Cassidy Sutton

Cassidy is a vet tech and pet sitter who has more recently become a animal writer. She loves cats and dogs and has had dozens of pets over the years. Her specialty is the human-animal bond. Cassidy and her husband currently live in Kansas with a German Shepherd named Raven, two cats named Lucy and Streudel, and several backyard chickens.