Colorado is home to a remarkable diversity of blackbird species. These visually striking black birds in Colorado can be found across the state in various habitats, from high mountain forests to eastern plains grasslands. Some species like the Red-winged Blackbird are familiar backyard birds, while others like the Yellow-headed Blackbird reside primarily in wetlands.
This article provides an overview of key identification features, habitat preferences, vocalizations, and interesting behaviors of Colorado’s blackbirds. Whether you are a beginning birder looking to learn some of the most common species, or an experienced watcher seeking to expand your knowledge, this guide will aid in identifying these charismatic birds.
Key Traits Differentiating Black Birds of Colorado
There are subtle distinguishing features between the main orange and black birds seen flying through Colorado skies.
|Entirely glossy black plumage
Large size (17-21 inches) with broad wings and fan-shaped tail
|“Caw caw” vocalization and a wide vocabulary of rattles, clicks, and short notes
|Highly social, omnivorous, expert fliers, known for aerial acrobatics, uses tools to probe for food and make tools
|Glossy black plumage with shaggy throat feathers
Very large size (24-27 inches); makes crows look small in comparison
Long, diamond-shaped tail
|Deep, guttural “croak” and a variety of clicks, gurgles, and long rolling calls
|Found in various habitats, scavenges on carrion and garbage, highly aerial acrobat, uses tools and solves problems, experiments playfully with objects
|Male: All black with red and yellow shoulder patches (“epaulets”)
Female: Dark brown streaked in pale brown
Medium size (6.5-9.5 inches) with conical bill
|Metallic “konk-la-ree” song and raspy calls. Females make ticking calls.
|Highly social, omnivorous, expert fliers, known for aerial acrobatics, use tools to probe for food and make tools
|Male: Solid black with iridescent sheen and striking yellow eyes
Female: Dark brown overall with slight iridescence and dark eyes
Medium-long tail and slender bill
|Variety of musical whistles, gurgles, and metallic sounds. Male’s song is a rich bubbling warble.
|Found in grasslands, farms, parks, and open woodlands; gregarious, omnivorous, male displays by puffing up plumage and bowing while making vocalizations and fluttering wings
|Male: Dark iridescent body, pale brown head, and short finch-like bill
Female: Plain grayish-brown overall with faint streaking
Short conical bill; finch-like shape
|Fluty, gurgling whistles; males make squeaky “glug-glug” song
|Does not build nests; lays eggs in nests of other species, found in open habitats like grasslands, farms, and forest edges, gregarious, forages on the ground for seeds and insects
|Male: Striking yellow head/breast and glossy black body
Female: Drab dark brown with faint streaking
Large conical bill for eating insects and grains
|Found in marshes, wet meadows, and fields; highly territorial male defends nest sites, omnivorous, and gregarious in winter forming large flocks
|Nests in marshes and wet meadows in dense colonies, highly social, forages in large flocks flying in undulating V-formations over habitat, omnivorous
|Harsh rattling calls; the male’s song is scratchy and buzzing
|With creaky squawks and gurgling trills; the male’s song is melodic warbling
|Breeds in coniferous and deciduous wooded wetlands, winters along wooded streams and floodplains, highly sociable, forming large flocks in migration and winter
|Very long, keel-shaped tail making up half their length
Male: Black with iridescent purple-blue sheen
Female: Smaller and dark brown
Yellow eyes; long, stout bill
|Harsh, squeaky calls; males make loud whistles and squeals
|Found at marshes, lakesides, parks, farms, and urban areas with open water, opportunistic feeder, gregarious, forms large, noisy flocks numbering hundreds of birds, male displays by puffing up plumage, fanning tail, bowing, and vocalizing
|Male: Black with green iridescent sheen; yellow eyes
Female/immature: Dark gray-brown overall with pale yellow eyes
Medium-sized with a long tail and slender bill
|Omnivorous diet includes insects, fruit, nectar, grains, garbage<br>Opportunistic nesters in cavities, crevices, birdhouses, and manmade structures
|Male: Black with iridescent purple-bronze on head and body
Female: Smaller with dark brown body and paler brown head
Pale yellow eye; long, thick bill
|Harsh, squeaking calls and screams; males make various creaking and gurgling sounds
|Found in cities, farms, suburbs, parks, and countryside; highly adaptable
Forms enormous flocks called “murmurations” numbering thousands of birds
Gregarious and social; roosts communally often with other blackbird species
|Very long, wide tail shaped like a boat rudder; tail half its body length
Male: Black with iridescent purple to blue sheen
Female: Smaller and dark brown; juveniles are pale brown
Huge bill stout at base; yellow eyes
|Harsh squeaks and squeals; males make piercing whistles and clucks
|Found in urban parks, suburban neighborhoods, farms, and marshes; omnivorous, forms noisy flocks that aggressively chase other birds from feeders
|Black upperparts with white outer tail feathers
Bright yellow underparts with black “V” on the breast
Medium-sized with a conical bill shaped for probing
|Males have a loud, melodic, fluty whistle song; calls include chatterings and sharps.
|Inhabits coastal marshes, mangroves, and saltwater habitats, forms large, noisy colonies; feeds on aquatic prey like fish, frogs, and crustaceans, and also eats grains
|Found in open grassy areas like meadows, fields, and prairies, makes nests on the ground hidden in dense vegetation, forages on the ground eating insects and seeds, sings from elevated perches like fence posts and utility wires
|Males sing loud, rich, warbling songs; calls include chatterings and whistles
|Upperparts brown streaked with black; underparts bright yellow
Black breast band with a central pale yellow crescent
White outer tail feathers visible in flight
|Constant chattering; males make noisy squeaks, checks, and gurgles
|Favors native grasslands, fields, meadows, and farms; makes well-hidden nests on the ground in dense grasses, forages on seeds and insects probed from the ground
|Nests in extremely dense colonies near water; up to 250,000+ birds, swarms wetlands in massive flocks darting acrobatically in unison, gregarious in all seasons forming huge nomadic flocks
|Black upperparts with white stripe down back; black wings with white bars
Male: Bright red forehead and throat
White below with black breast patch and white rump
|Barking and squealing calls; males make loud, ringing drumrolls
|Drills rows of small sap wells in tree bark as a food source, found in mountain forests, nests in tree cavities, males and females may both tend nest sites, feeds on sap, cambium, insects
|Male: Black with bright red lesser wing covert forming red patch on wing
Female: Blackish-brown streaked below with hints of red in wings
Medium-sized with a conical bill
|“Chick-a-dee-dee” call; also high-pitched whistles and gargling
|Found in forests, woodlands, and parks; acrobatic foragers hang upside-down and hover while gleaning insects, social, and travel in small flocks that roam territories
|Black cap, white cheeks, black bib; gray upperparts, buff underparts
Thicker bill than Black-capped; longer tail
|Faster, buzzier rendition of chickadee-dee-dee calls
|Black cap and throat; white cheeks and face
Gray upperparts; buff-colored underparts
Tiny and round with a short tail and stubby bill
|Pale gray overall with black wings and tail and white patches
Very long, two-tone bill; pale grayish body; black legs
|Harsh, rattling calls; also softer clicking notes
|Inhabits high-elevation pine forests, uses bill to hammer and crack open seeds and nuts, caches up to 98,000 seeds per season in thousands of hiding spots, relies on amazing spatial memory to recover caches under snow
|Black head with white shoulders; black body with long blue-green iridescent tail
Yellow eyes; black scimitar-like bill; black legs
Juveniles have less iridescence and shorter tails
|Varied harsh calls like rattles, squawks, and gurgles; also quiet warbling
|Found in montane coniferous forests, acrobatic foragers, travels in small flocks within winter territories, cavity nesters using old woodpecker holes or stumps
|Black hood, white shoulders, blue-green body with long tail
Large yellow bill with black tip; yellow fleshy eye ring
Juveniles have less iridescence and shorter tails
|Harsh squawks and rattling calls; also softly warbling notes
|Rusty cap, black eye line, and gray face
Bill is small and conical; black legs; a long black tail
Breast unmarked; white belly; brownish wings
|Found in open woods, ranches, parks, rural areas with scattered trees, builds large, domed nests high in trees, very social and intelligent, scavenges on carrion, and preys on eggs, nestlings, rodents
|Loud, sweet, trilling series of chips; call is a dry “chip”
|Found in yards, parks, open woods, forest edges, nests low in conifers or shrubs; forages on ground and low in trees eating insects and seeds
|Gray hood, white belly, and pink-brown sides; whitish outer tail feathers
Bill conical; eyes dark brown; legs flesh-colored
|Found only in California’s Central Valley and nearby foothills, builds large, domed nests high in trees, is gregarious and social, forages on the ground for insects, and seeds; also eats carrion, eggs
|Melodic drill; calls include metallic chips and tinkling notes
|Winters in open woodlands, suburbs, parks, and yards, bounces along ground picking seeds and insects, and forms social flocks that forage over wide areas
|High thin twitters; male’s song warbled high-pitched notes
|Breeds on remote cliffs and mountain tops, forages on ground in alpine tundra, gregarious in all seasons forming large nomadic winter flocks
|Pelagic; found far offshore when not breeding; wary of boats/humans
Makes nests on the ground near northern lakes and ponds
Forms enormous “rafts” of thousands in migration and winter
|Feeds by diving underwater for mollusks, crustaceans, and aquatic insects
|Males black and brown with rosy-red forehead, cheeks, and undertail
Females lack red but have extensive brown streaking
Medium-sized with a short notched tail and pointed bill
|Harsh, rasping calls; twittering notes at colonies
|Dark gray above and black below with white rump
Blackcap and short black legs; gray tail deeply forked
Bill thin and straight; wings long and narrow
|Found along marshes, lakes, and rivers; roosts in trees during the day, most active at night feeding on fish, crustaceans, and insects, nests in groups along inland waterways and coasts
|Harsh quacks and squawks
|Found near marshes, lakes, rivers; roosts and nests on floating vegetation, plunges from air into the water to catch small fish and insects, breeds in dense colonies of up to 2000 pairs in protected wetlands
|Black plumage with big white wing patches in summer
Thin straight bill; red feet; white-edged tail
In winter lacks wing patches, becoming all black
|Purring “arrr” calls at breeding sites
|Nests along rocky northern coastlines in crevices or under boulders swim underwater propelled by wings; can dive over 200 feet, forage on fish and invertebrates, winter farther south along coasts and offshore
|Black-throated Gray Warbler
|Blackcap and back contrast with white cheeks and light gray body
Eyes are red; legs yellow-green
Short neck; chunky posture; large head
|Repetitive, buzzy trilling song; sharp “seet” call
|Found in pine and oak forests of the west, hops along branches picking insects, male sings from high exposed perches, nests low in trees and shrubs
Small black birds in Colorado
Colorado is home to a variety of small black birds that frequent backyards, woodlands, and mountain forests across the state. Species like the Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, and Brown-headed Cowbird are familiar small blackbirds of fields and marshes. Chickadees and nuthatches represent tiny black birds of mountain forests. American Dippers are compact black birds of rushing mountain streams. Whether in urban areas or remote wilderness, attentive birdwatchers can observe a diversity of small black birds that call Colorado home.
Large black birds in Colorado
Several large black bird species inhabit Colorado’s varied ecosystems. The iconic Common Raven, larger than its relative the American Crow, soars on mountain thermals and frequents remote forests and deserts. Male Ring-necked Pheasants introduced from Asia, with their iridescent black bodies and long tails, are a common sight strutting across eastern plains grasslands. Wetlands host Red-tailed Black Hawks, a large soaring raptor marked by black upperparts contrasting its white-barred underparts. Large black-wading birds like Great Blue Herons can be found along the state’s riparian corridors as well.
Big black birds in Colorado
With its expansive habitats from mountains to plains, Colorado is home to a variety of big black bird species. The Common Raven, bigger than its American Crow cousin, is a falcon-sized black bird of remote forests and wild areas. Male Wild Turkeys sport iridescent black feathers and fan impressive tails as they strut in open woodlands. Wetlands host large Red-winged Blackbirds with striking red shoulder patches flickering in territorial displays. Along waterways, big black-wading birds like Great Blue Herons stand sentinel as they hunt for fish. From high deserts to eastern prairies, Colorado’s landscapes host many sizable blackbird species.
Common black birds in Colorado
Several blackbird species can be readily found across much of Colorado. The Red-winged Blackbird is a very common sight in marshes and fields statewide. American Crows and Common Ravens frequent both rural and urban areas. Male Ring-necked Pheasants introduced from Asia are a familiar sight on grasslands. European Starlings abundantly occupy cities, suburbs, and countryside. American Dippers inhabit mountain streams year-round. Brewer’s and Red-winged Blackbirds form massive winter flocks. With patient observation, birders can become familiar with Colorado’s most common blackbirds.
Comparing Nesting and Feeding Habits
In addition to visual traits, being aware of nesting and feeding behaviors can further assist in identifying mystery orange and black birds:
- Bullock’s orioles weave pendulous nests on high tree limbs
- Red-winged blackbirds nest among cattails in marshes
- Western tanagers build cups in conifers
- Scott’s orioles nest in protected areas like tree cavities
- Bullock’s orioles eat insects, fruit, and nectar
- Red-winged blackbirds eat insects, grains and seeds
- Western tanagers primarily eat insects
- Scott’s orioles eat insects and nectar
Spotting orange flashes in nests in water reeds indicates red-winged blackbirds while seeing them pluck tent caterpillars from trees is more characteristic of Bullock’s orioles. Clues like habitat and food preferences accompany visual identification.
Tips for Spotting and Identifying the Birds
Certain tips can help you spot an orange and black mystery bird again and confirm the species:
- Learn the unique songs and calls of each bird
- Note specific location and habitat where seen
- Identify time of year and migratory status
- Observe behavior like feeding, nesting, and interactions
- Take photos documenting field marks and colors
- Record distinguishing traits like size, beak shape, etc
- Consult Sound ID and Bird Guide mobile apps
Arming yourself with all these clues enables confidently determine what orange and black bird just darted across your sightline.
Top Areas to Spot Featured Black Birds
Given range maps and habitat preferences, below are the top Colorado sites for sighting these species:
Bullock’s Oriole: Montane forests, riparian corridors and open woodlands. Try spots like Rocky Mountain National Park.
Red-Winged Blackbird: Wetlands near cattails and protected pools. Check areas like Bluestem Pond Open Space.
Western Tanager: Conifer and mixed forests. Attempt mountain regions like Mesa Verde National Park.
Scott’s Oriole: Arid shrublands, canyon country, and juniper stands search locations like the Colorado National Monument.
Targeting these distinct ecosystems increases your chance of adding one of these orange and black beauties to your life list!
Key Takeaways on Identifying Black Birds in Colorado
In summary, key points for identifying mystery sightings:
- Consider size, beak shape, plumage patterns, markings, range maps, and behaviors
- Bullock’s orioles sport orange bodies with black wings found in mountain forests
- Red-winged blackbirds wear bright shoulder patches and nest in wetland reeds
- Western tanagers flash yellow and red in coniferous areas
- Scott’s orioles contain yellow bodies in dry, scrubby desert terrain
So solving orange and black bird mysteries relies on noting field marks plus information like timeframes, habits, and representative ranges across Colorado’s diverse ecosystems from mountains to marshes. Armed with these clues, you can confidently deduce species identity. That flash of orange and black will soon represent another feathered friend added to your life list rather than an unknown enigma zipping through tree branches.
Whether glimpsing a vast winter murmuration of European Starlings or hearing the song of Western Meadowlarks floating over the prairie, blackbirds provide some of the most captivating wildlife encounters across Colorado. This guide covers only a selection of the many species found, from flashy Red-winged Blackbirds to reclusive Rusty Blackbirds of northern wooded wetlands. Birders can continue expanding their identification skills and knowledge to appreciate more of the diversity these birds display. When observing blackbirds, pay attention to vocalizations, flocking behavior, habitat preferences, and other characteristics that aid identification. With practice, birdwatchers can go from seeing “just another blackbird” to recognizing the unique traits of each charismatic species.
Frequently Asked Questions About Black Birds in Colorado
What is the big black bird in Colorado?
The largest black bird commonly seen in Colorado is the Common Raven. An iconic bird of western wildlands, the Common Raven is much larger than American Crows with thicker necks, shaggy throat feathers, wedge-shaped tails, and massive bills. Ravens tend to live in wilder areas away from civilization.
Does Colorado have crows or ravens?
Colorado has both crows and ravens. The small, highly adaptable American Crow is found widely across the state, especially in towns, suburbs, and agricultural areas. The larger Common Raven occupies wilder natural areas like mountains, forests, shrublands, and deserts. Tell them apart by size, vocalizations, tail shape, and habitat.
What is the most common bird in Colorado?
Some of the most commonly seen birds across Colorado include the American Robin, Black-billed Magpie, European Starling, House Finch, Dark-eyed Junco, Red-winged Blackbird, and Common Grackle. These species adapt well to human landscapes.
What are all black birds called?
There is no single name that covers all blackbird species. Some common all-black or mostly-black birds in Colorado include:
- American Crow
- Common Raven
- Red-winged Blackbird
- Brewer’s Blackbird
- Brown-headed Cowbird
- Yellow-headed Blackbird
- Great-tailed Grackle
- European Starling
- Common Grackle
These species belong to the family Icteridae, also called the blackbird family, which includes many familiar black avian species.
What is the best way to identify an unfamiliar bird species I spot?
Make a note of key characteristics like colors, markings, size, beak shape, behaviors, location details, and habitat. Photos help documentation too. Consider range maps for possible species. Review bird ID guides to connect clues and confirm species.
What orange and black bird spotted in Colorado is the rarest species?
The Scott’s oriole has the most limited breeding range confined to small southwestern parts of the state. Its extreme habitat specificity also makes it harder to find compared to the other orange and black birds more widespread across diverse areas.
Do any orange and black birds found in Colorado migrate?
The Bullock’s oriole and western tanager migrate to wintering grounds in Mexico and the southwestern US while the red-winged blackbird and Scott’s oriole remain year-round residents in Colorado and surrounding regions.
What time of year am I most likely to see the different oranges and blackbirds?
The migratory Bullock’s oriole and western tanager arrive in Colorado in spring to breed over summer. Resident red-winged blackbirds and Scott’s orioles frequent the state spring through fall as well with potential year-round sightings.
Are any of the orange and black birds unique to Colorado?
No, all four species occupy broader ranges beyond Colorado alone. However, several do reach distribution edges within certain parts of Colorado, like the Scott’s oriole in limited southwest border areas. Habitat specificities also concentrate densities.