Meet the Black Birds That Are Always Dressed for Halloween

Updated: Oct. 10, 2022

Get to know North America's most mysterious black birds and discover how they might have earned their haunting reputation.

crow, black birds, Sue Orlowski Bnb Bypc 2021
Courtesy Sue Orlowski
American crow on a bird bath

Black Birds: Spooky or Stunning?

Black birds have a way of capturing your imagination. They can be a little spooky to encounter—some of these birds even inspired the 1963 horror-thriller film, The Birds. Meet these coal-colored creatures and learn what makes them so captivating.

Meet 5 types of blackbirds you should know.

An American crow with shiny black feathers sits in a berry-filled tree.
Francis & Janice Bergquist
An American crow sits in a berry-filled tree.

American Crow

Crows are super smart, big jet black birds from crown to claw. They can be heard cawing across the continent. Crows are ground feeders and eat almost anything: carrion, chicks, small animals, seeds, insects, earthworms and more.

Trudy Stone, a backyard birder based in Nashville, Tennessee, respects crows for their intelligence. When she was young, Trudy’s family had regular run-ins with crows, which used to collect her mom’s Coppertone caps as she sat out sunbathing. “They’d steal the tops, and then they had a hidy-hole they’d put them in,” she recalls.

Crows and ravens, their larger cousins, are often represented in fables and folklore. Seeing a single crow is considered bad luck in some cultures.

American crows previously lived primarily in rural areas, but their habitat has changed over time. These clever creatures have used their smarts to adapt to life in cities, and are now common fixtures in urban birding.

Why do crows chase hawks?

A pair of common grackles perch next to each other in a barren tree.
Rejean Bedard/Shutterstock
A pair of common grackles perches together

Common Grackle

Look for glossy iridescent features on these long-tailed, beautiful blackbirds. Residing east of the Rocky Mountains, the ground feeders use their long legs to walk in lawns and fields.

Grackle birds eat anything edible, from crops to food castoffs. But there are a few ways to get rid of grackles at your backyard bird feeder, if you don’t appreciate these birds.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, common grackles are the top threat to corn, as they “eat ripening corn as well as corn sprouts, and their habit of foraging in big flocks mean they have a multimillion-dollar impact.” That said, populations are in steep decline and have fallen an estimated 54% over the course of about 50 years.

Meet the Steller’s jay: Clever black and blue birds.

A European starling sits on a mossy branch showing off its more colorful feathers.
Bob Kothenbeutel
A European starling showing off its more colorful feathers

European Starling

Also iridescent in plumage, European starlings are stocky songbirds that sport short tails, orange feet, bright yellow bills and a musical song. Often found in cities and towns, these ground foragers eat insects.

About 100 European starlings were brought across the Atlantic and released into New York City’s Central Park in the 1890s. Around 200 million starlings now live on the continent, from Alaska to Mexico.

These pictures will change the way you look at black birds.

black birds, A double-crested cormorant spreads its wings in the sun.
Ian Clark
A double-crested cormorant spreads its wings in the sun

Double-Crested Cormorant

With yellow-orange face accents, a snaky neck, aquamarine eyes and matte black plumage, these long, tall birds appear almost prehistoric. Birders find them across the country, often standing on docks or islands in fresh or salt water, stretching their wings to dry in the sun. They look very similar to anhingas. These expert fishers are efficient hunters. They often come in conflict with those who work in the aquaculture industry, including catfish farmers.

“Large flocks of cormorants come through, and they can wipe out a pond,” says Greg Yarrow, one of the founders of the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management. “They’ve been deemed ‘murder on wings’ by some.”

Learn interesting facts about red-winged blackbirds.

A male American redstart fans out its orange and black tail feathers.
Johann Schumacher Design
A male American redstart fans out its orange and black tail feathers

American Redstart

These coal black warblers sport striking orange plumage on their wings, tails and sides. Look for these warblers, found across the U.S., in deciduous woodlands, hopping along tree limbs or dashing through trees in search of insects. American redstarts are known for flashing their feathers in an effort to frighten their prey from out of the foliage. Attract redstarts with small berries and fruits such as barberries, serviceberries and magnolia berries.

Psst—meet 15 white birds that birders should know.

A black vulture gets its name from its black feathers, skin and mostly black bill.
Michel Viard/Getty Images
A black vulture gets its name from its black feathers, skin and mostly black bill

Black Vulture

A plentiful Southeast-based scavenger, the black vulture has a black body, a short tail, and a wrinkly black head. White wingtips are visible as these birds soar the skies. “They are flying waste management,” Greg Yarrow says.

Long known as scavengers, vultures have evolved their feeding techniques over time. Now black vultures are also considered predators. They regularly come into conflict with humans, damaging property and eating young livestock. People have invented a unique means of scaring this bird, which some consider a spooky species. “Use effigies of vultures and hang them upside down. This tends to freak the vultures out,” Greg says.

Meet 8 yellow and black birds you should know.

A common loon sits on a nest floating in the middle of a lake.
Roland Jordahl
A common loon sits on a nest floating in the middle of a lake

Common Loon

Haunting, eerie calls are the hallmark of this fish-eating fowl. Spotted on lakes and ponds across the U.S., these black-and-white birds are agile divers as well as strong swimmers. They chase, catch and grip fish with the frighteningly sharp projections on the roof of their mouth and tongue.

They come ashore only to nest, and they look much less intense on land. Their legs are at the back of their body for strong swimming, but it makes walking awkward. The haunting call of a common loon is frequently used as a sound effect in many movies and TV shows, such as Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and 1917, during spooky scenes.

Next, discover 9 fascinating facts about common ravens.