I don't care what anyone says, but ID'ing black birds(note that I am not writing "blackbirds":) can be a bit tricky. There are still many to find, but here is a list on several that have made me glance once, twice, thrice........
Grackles should be easy to ID and yet there can be doubt. In Southern Arizona, a Common Grackle would be rare, but the Great-tailed Grackle(above) is very common. So when I was in Colorado Springs, I knew I could find a Common Grackle, but the issue was that both Grackles were found there. How would I distinguish between the two? When I spotted several on a branch(below), I actually stood longer than normal to ID the call and look for the field marks to make sure I did in fact see the Common Grackle. Pale Yellow iris, dark bluish glossy head and heavy bill were several of the things I looked at first. The rain in the area made it a little difficult to pick out the bluish tones in the head and yellow eye......but I was able to see it better with my own eyes than that of the camera.
But how do you tell a Brewer's Blackbird apart from a Common Grackle? It also has a yellow eye. The difference? Habitat and behavior help. But body shape, slight difference in the bill and coloring also can help with ID. The Brewer's likes to feed from the ground. But in this case, the calls are different and I was able to quickly ID the bird.
But I tell you.....that call! It is so distinct that you can't miss it. I dropped what I was doing to capture this bird on camera. Birding by ear can be a powerful tool.
Another black bird, related to the cuckoo family, is the Groove-billed Ani. They are very common in Central America and make me smile. They remind me of muppets with their scraggly and monster looking faces. Again their call is distinct and I had it memorized from the time it came to Tucson. I have it recorded on my phone because it's one of my favorite bird calls next to the Loon. They are larger birds and appear to lazily perch on fence posts in pastures or on open branches around rivers, etc.
So how about those "other" black birds? Crows and Ravens??!!! In Tucson, it's possible to spot the Common and Chihuahuan Ravens. But how do you tell them apart? More common are the Common Ravens. They generally fly in pairs, but can be seen at times flying in great numbers. Even the experts can have a difficult time ID'ing these birds from afar. Chihuahuan Ravens will flock around Pecan orchards here and of course, open grasslands. They have a shorter bill with long nasal bristles. However, they fly a bit differently than the closely related Common Raven. The Common Raven "rows" its way across the airways.
And the American Crow is a smaller bird with a large bill but much smaller than that of a Raven. The calls are the easiest to recognize. Understanding their calls, makes the ID a snap!
European Starlings are black but very easy to ID with their body and bills. Their starry patterns remind me of outer space. But still.....from a distance, I have to really look. But if I can see those triangular wings, short square tails and that stocky body, I know right away that I'm witnessing the European Starling in action. They also tend to flock. Again their calls are distinct.
One black bird(or blackbird:) that is an easy ID is the Bronzed Cowbird....if you can see the red eye:)
The Brown-headed Cowbird at maturity has a black body with a brown head....hence the name. Both birds have VERY cool calls. They sound like spacy, liquidy whistles! AGAIN another easy ID! Many people miss this one and I have to point it out to birders visiting from out of state. I've helped 3 birders add the Bronzed Cowbird to their life lists. Watching someone add a cowbird to their life list makes me smile. We take them for granted here as they are rather common.
|Female Brewer's Blackbird|
Here's a flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds below in flight. You see how they could be difficult to ID? Usually they mix with other blackbirds to add to the confusion.
|Flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds|
Many out of state people come to find our Yellow-headed Blackbirds. I've witnessed this bird in the tens of thousands. Twice I have been caught in the middle of the tornado energy and it made me smile. My video below captures the many Yellow-headed Blackbirds making a landing in the fields adjacent to the gas station.
I was filling up my gas once and a black cloud descended around the parking lot. Another time I was birding in Tucson and an entire flock flew around me. I was surrounded by magic!
These blackbirds are easy to ID. Their calls are varied and diverse but thankfully their colors stand out among the rest. Someone asked me once, "What are those blackbirds with a yellow head?" Yellow-headed Blackbirds. "Oh, that's easy." Sure is.
So is this Red-winged Blackbird below. Interestingly enough, the female looks nothing like the male. To a beginner, they look like different birds. Is it a Waterthrush? A Finch? Nope. Just the female Red-Winged Blackbird:)
Finally I end with a Chihuahuan Raven. Of all these black birds I shared today, I think the Common and Chihuahuan Ravens are probably the most difficult to ID. This may sound weird, but when I see a Chihuahuan Raven, I just "know". I'll mark them down wherever I am to keep tabs on their location. On Ebird, there is a Chihuahuan Raven expert who monitors our populations and I was able to email and chat with him about his studies. I have many more black birds to find, but here are the ones I've been able to ID so far.
Finally, I'd like to add one last thing about taking pictures of black birds or animals. It's really difficult!!! I find that having a very light background brings the detail out on these birds. Below is a pic of our cat Cassie. She sometimes blends right in with the surroundings.
|Cassie-the black kitty|