Blackbirds (Icteridae)

Blackbirds (Icteridae)

The blackbirds are a group of New World birds that belong to the Icteridae family and look very similar to the Eurasian Blackbird, which is, in fact, a thrush. New World blackbirds have long conical bills, allowing them to feed on seeds predominantly and eat many insects.

They typically feed on the ground, but some species feed in trees.

Sexual dimorphism is present among many species, with the males usually being black with patches of color and the females being dull and brown. Many species gather during winter to form huge feeding flocks, sometimes composed of multiple blackbirds and other related bird species.

There are 23 blackbird species grouped into 14 genera, all described in the following article.

1. Genus Agelaius

1.1 Red-shouldered Blackbird (Agelaius assimilis)

The male Red-shouldered Blackbird has plain black plumage with a bluish iridescence. It also has an orangy-red shoulder patch with a yellow outline. Females are less glossy and plain black with no shoulder patches.

Red-shouldered Blackbird

They are endemic to Cuba, where they live in marshes, wetlands, and swamps.

1.2 Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

The breeding male Red-winged Blackbird is a glossy black bird with a yellow stripe on the wing and an orange-red patch on the shoulder. In non-breeding plumage, they have rusty edges to the feathers and smaller shoulder patches.

Females have plain brown upper parts, heavily streaked brown underparts, and pale eyebrows. Tiny shoulder patches are also visible.

Red-winged Blackbird

They are found almost throughout North America and most of Central America, where it is one of the most abundant birds. They live in marshes and scrubby fields.

1.3 Tawny-shouldered Blackbird (Agelaius humeralis)

The Tawny-shouldered Blackbird has glossy black plumage and a yellow-orange shoulder patch. The female is similar to the male but has less gloss and a smaller shoulder patch.

Tawny-shouldered Blackbird

They live in many habitat types, including forest edges, pastures, shrublands, and fields. They have a small distribution, being limited to Cuba and Hispaniola.

1.4 Tricolored Blackbird (Agelaius tricolor)

The Tricolored Blackbird is a small black bird with white stripes on its wings. The breeding male is glossy black, except for the orange-red shoulder patch.

Non-breeding males are duller. The female is dull dark brown overall with streaks on the underside.

Tricolored Blackbird

They occur in marshes, wetlands, grasslands, and fields on the west coast of the United States and Baja California in Mexico.

1.5 Yellow-shouldered Blackbird (Agelaius xanthomus)

The Yellow-shouldered Blackbird is plain black except for the yellow shoulder patch. Males and females are alike.

Yellow-shouldered Blackbird

They are only found in Puerto Rico. They inhabit mangroves and adjacent scrublands.

2. Genus Agelasticus

2.1 Pale-eyed Blackbird (Agelasticus xanthophthalmus)

The Pale-eyed Blackbird has shiny black plumage with a pale yellow or white eye. Sexes are similar.

Pale-eyed Blackbird

They live in wet grasslands and marshes around oxbow lakes and lagoons in their restricted range within Peru and Ecuador.

2.2 Unicolored Blackbird (Agelasticus cyanopus)

The Unicolored Blackbird males are plain black birds. The females show geographic variation with black-streaked brown to brownish-olive upper parts.

Their undersides are dark yellow to olive with brown streaks. They have a yellow eyebrow stripe and a dark face mask.

Unicolored Blackbird

They occur in swamps, grasslands, and marshes. They are found in South America – mainly in the center.

2.3 Yellow-winged Blackbird (Agelasticus thilius)

The Yellow-winged Blackbird male is a black bird with yellow on the wings forming a shoulder patch.

The female has dark brown upperparts, a pale eyebrow stripe, a dark brown face mask, and a light brown underside with dark streaking.

Yellow-winged Blackbird

They occur in southern South America, inhabiting wetlands, lake edges, swamps, pastures, and fields.

3. Genus Amblyramphus

3.1 Scarlet-headed Blackbird (Amblyramphus holosericeus)

The Scarlet-headed Blackbird is a beautiful blackbird with a bright orange-red head, neck, throat, chest, and thighs. The sexes are similar.

Scarlet-headed Blackbird

They live in densely vegetated marshes, and they’re found in Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, and Bolivia.

4. Genus Anumara

4.1 Forbes’s Blackbird (Anumara forbesi)

Forbes’s Blackbird has black plumage across the entire body. Males are similar to females.

Forbes's Blackbird

They live in forest edges, adjacent marshes, flooded grasslands, and sugarcane plantations. They have a restricted range in northeastern and eastern Brazil.

5. Genus Chrysomus

5.1 Chestnut-capped Blackbird (Chrysomus ruficapillus)

The Chestnut-capped Blackbird males in breeding plumage have black plumage, except for the throat, forehead, and crown, which are chestnut. In non-breeding plumage, they have olive-tipped feathers on their backs, flanks, and chests.

Females have a dark olive-brown face and upper parts with fine streaking, a buffy throat, and olive-brown underparts with dark streaks.

Chestnut-capped Blackbird

They live in wet grasslands, marshes, and agricultural lands. They occur throughout central-eastern South America.

5.2 Yellow-hooded Blackbird (Chrysomus icterocephalus)

The breeding male Yellow-hooded Blackbird is an unmistakable bird with a bright yellow head, chest, and nape contrasting with the black body. In non-breeding plumage, the males look similar but have yellow-tipped chest and back feathers and an olive-yellow nape and crown.

The female looks different, with a yellowish head, a brighter yellow upper chest, blackish wings, and dark olive-brown over the rest of the body with some streaking.

Yellow-hooded Blackbird

They are found in northern South America. They live in wetlands, marshes, around lakes, and along rivers.

6. Genus Curaeus

6.1 Austral Blackbird (Curaeus curaeus)

The female and male Austral Blackbirds have glossy black plumage throughout their bodies.

Austral Blackbird

They live in many habitats, including farmlands, urban parks, open forests, and scrublands. This species is found in Chile and Argentina.

7. Genus Dives

7.1 Melodious Blackbird (Dives dives)

The Melodious Blackbird has velvety black plumage. Sexes are similar.

Melodious Blackbird

This blackbird is located in Central America and is found in semi-open habitats such as open forests, agricultural lands, yards, and adjacent fields near forests.

7.2 Scrub Blackbird (Dives warczewiczi)

The Scrub Blackbird is black overall with a bluish sheen. Males and females look similar.

Scrub Blackbird

They live in open areas and lowland forests of western Ecuador, western Peru, and southwestern Colombia.

8. Genus Euphagus

8.1 Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)

Brewer’s Blackbird males in breeding plumage have glossy black plumage with a purple sheen on the head, a greenish glow on the body, and yellow eyes. The non-breeding males have a pale eyebrow stripe.

Females have dark brown plumage, a delicate purple gloss on the head, a greenish sheen on the body, and a dark eye line.

Brewer's Blackbird

They inhabit open areas, including fields, farmlands, parks, and urban environments. They are found in most of the United States, Mexico, and southwestern Canada.

8.2 Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)

The breeding male Rusty Blackbird has black plumage with a glossy green sheen. In non-breeding plumage, the male has a buff-brown eyebrow stripe, a rusty-brown nape, crown and ears, and rusty edges to the feathers. The underside is buff-brown with black barring. The upper side is primarily brown, with a black rump, tail, and wings. They have yellow eyes in all plumage phases.

Females are slate-grey with rusty feather edges, buff-brown eyebrow stripes, brown heads and chests, and dark upperparts showing a bluish-green gloss.

Rusty Blackbird

They occur in most of North America’s wooded swamps, bogs, shorelines, wet forests, cultivated areas, pastures, and fields.

9. Genus Gnorimopsar

9.1 Chopi Blackbird (Gnorimopsar chopi)

The Chopi Blackbird has wholly glossy black plumage. Females look similar to males.

Chopi Blackbird

They occur on forest edges, in woodlands, grasslands, savannas, and agricultural areas. They are found in a large portion of central and eastern South America.

10. Genus Nesopsar

10.1 Jamaican Blackbird (Nesopsar nigerrimus)

The Jamaican Blackbird males have entirely glossy black plumage. Females look similar to males.

Jamaican Blackbird

They inhabit high-elevation, wet montane forests, and wet woodlands, and they’re endemic to Jamaica.

11. Genus Oreopsar

11.1 Bolivian Blackbird (Oreopsar bolivianus)

The Bolivian Blackbird is a plain black bird with brown wings. Males and females look similar.

Bolivian Blackbird

They occur in agricultural areas, woodlands, cactus forests, scrublands, and farming areas in dry valleys in the Andes of Bolivia.

12. Genus Ptiloxena

12.1 Cuban Blackbird (Ptiloxena atroviolacea)

The Cuban Blackbird has glossy black plumage with shades of blue, violet, and blue-green sheens. The female is duller than the male.

Cuban Blackbird

They are found in various wooded habitats, such as wet forests, yards, parks, wooded cities, grasslands, open woodlands, fields, and human settlements. This species is endemic to Cuba.

13. Genus Xanthocephalus

13.1 Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

The Yellow-headed Blackbird is aptly named, with the male being a plain black bird with a white stripe on the wing and a golden-yellow head, neck, and chest.

Females are drab-looking with dark brown bodies, dull yellow chests, and patchy black and yellow heads.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

They occur in western North America and Mexico, primarily in marshes, wetlands, meadows, and river and pond edges.

14. Genus Xanthopsar

14.1 Saffron-cowled Blackbird (Xanthopsar flavus)

The Saffron-cowled Blackbird has a yellow head, rump, shoulder patches, and underside, while the rest of the body is black, including the black face mask. Females are similarly patterned to males but have brown feathers, whereas males have black feathers.

Saffron-cowled Blackbird

They live in grasslands, pastures, and marshes. Their small range is in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.


The blackbirds are an interesting group of birds with black plumages, shades of sheens, and colorful patches that vary by species.

The conservation status of blackbirds varies from those which are highly abundant to those whose populations are declining rapidly.

The blackbirds are threatened by habitat destruction due to land conversion, habitat fragmentation, poisoning, and competition, all made worse by the tiny ranges some species live in.

Join the discussion

  • I have seen two blackbirds with perfect yellow rings around their necks. That was their only marking. I would like to know what this bird is since I can’t find it in any literature. I saw these two birds in a McDonald’s parking lot in West Palm beach. Maybe they escaped from their owners. What are they please!