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Black Birds in Colorado: Types, Range, and Habitat (2024)

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black birds in coloradoLift your eyes towards the sky and you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of black birds soaring through Colorado.

Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Common Grackles, Baltimore Orioles and Orchard Orioles can all be found in abundance across this state – each with its own unique characteristics that make them stand out from one another.

From their range and habitat to feeding habits or conservation concerns – it’s worth exploring these fascinating creatures further so we can better understand why they are such an important part of the local ecosystem.

In this article we will explore nine types of black birds in Colorado – including those already mentioned – helping us gain new insights into their behavior as well as what attracts them here in the first place.

Key Takeaways

  • Red-winged Blackbird, European Starling, Brown-headed Cowbird, Common Grackle, Baltimore Oriole, Orchard Oriole, Brewer’s Blackbird, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and Rusty Blackbird are black birds found in Colorado.
  • These black birds live in various habitats including marshes, grasslands, forests, and urban areas.
  • They show territorial behavior, interact socially, practice brood parasitism, and sometimes nest communally.
  • Conservation efforts for black birds in Colorado focus on protecting wetlands and preserving habitat, especially for the declining Rusty Blackbird population.

Red-winged Blackbird

Breeding populations of Red-winged Blackbirds occupy large swaths of North America, from Alaska and Canada south through the continental United States to Central America. Varied freshwater and open habitats like marshes, meadows, and agricultural areas comprise their preferred range, where males defend territories with their conk-la-ree songs and epaulet displays.

Range and Habitat of Red-winged Blackbird

You’ll come across these stocky, broad-shouldered blackbirds with red and yellow patches fluttering through marshes and grasslands across Colorado. Widespread and abundant, red-winged blackbirds breed in emergent vegetation at wetlands.

Listen for their musical conk-la-ree songs emanating from cattails. These gregarious songbirds form large flocks in open fields and grasslands when not nesting.

Identification and Behavior of Red-winged Blackbird

You absolutely must pay close attention to the stocky, broad-shouldered silhouette and slender bill of this robin-sized blackbird, as it characteristically flares its tail while perching. Red-winged blackbirds are very territorial, defending breeding sites in marshes with song and aerial chases.

Males perform breeding displays by flashing red shoulder patches while calling and spreading tail feathers. Their rich, musical song conk-la-ree marks territory. Aggressive defense of nesting areas is a key behavior of this common blackbird across North America.

Unique Characteristics of Red-winged Blackbird

The red-winged blackbird‘s stocky silhouette often looks hump-backed when perching, as the male flares its tail. This blackbird’s breeding behavior involves fiercely territorial males that defend marshland nests with distinctive conk-la-ree calls.

Females are mostly brown, constructing nests of grasses and cattails. These birds have varied feeding habits on insects, seeds, and fruits. Their plumage and habits are distinctive among blackbirds in Colorado like the red-winged blackbird.

European Starling

You’ll find the non-native invasive European Starling throughout much of North America after its initial introduction in 1890. Though still common, their numbers have declined by around 50% in recent decades.

They inhabit urban parks, farmlands, and other open areas including fields, pastures, and lawns, where they forage.

Range and Habitat of European Starling

The rangey European Starling abundantly nests in urban and suburban areas where it competes with native hole-nesting birds. Having been introduced from Europe in 1890, this invasive species is now widespread across North America.

These stocky black birds with colorful plumage feed on grains, fruits, and insects. Their raspy, squeaky vocalizations are quite variable as they communicate and forage in large, noisy flocks. Though beautiful, their aggressive spread impacts many native cavity-nesters like bluebirds and woodpeckers.

Identification and Behavior of European Starling

Look, you don’t want to be fooled by those invasive starlings acting all musical in their shiny black suits when really they’re just pests. With a mix of musical, squeaky, rasping notes, they aggressively nest in cavities, consuming fruit and insects.

Though their glossy black plumage sparkles with iridescent greens and purples during breeding, recognize their stocky build and short tails. Consider native blackbirds that coexist more harmoniously with small helpless songbirds.

Interesting Facts About European Starling

You’ll be amazed to learn the European Starling was intentionally introduced to North America, yet this invasive species has aggressively expanded its range across the continent.

  • It has thrived by adapting to human structures.
  • The birds are aggressive and abundant, forming large flocks.
  • Its range expanded rapidly across North America.
  • It impacts native cavity-nesting bird populations.
  • There have been long-term population declines from control programs.

The rapid range expansion and domination of the European Starling makes it one of the most successful avian invaders in North America.

Brown-headed Cowbird

Brown-headed Cowbird
You’ll find brown-headed cowbirds across North America in open woodlands, forest edges, grasslands, agricultural areas, and suburbs where they often parasitize the nests of other birds. This reproductive strategy allows brown-headed cowbirds to be highly mobile and take advantage of dynamic food resources across a wide range, though it can negatively impact host species with more restricted ranges.

Range and Habitat of Brown-headed Cowbird

You’d notice Brown-headed Cowbirds across much of North America, frequenting open woodlands and fields where they can find hosts to raise their young. Ranging from southern Canada to Mexico, Brown-headed Cowbirds don’t build their own nests.

Instead, they lay eggs in the nests of over 140 host species, which raise the cowbird chicks as their own. This brood parasitism impacts some sensitive species. However, cowbird populations remain widespread and abundant, causing minimal conservation concern for this unique blackbird species within its broad habitat range.

Reproductive Behavior of Brown-headed Cowbird

You’re familiar with how Brown-headed Cowbirds uniquely reproduce by laying eggs in other birds’ nests to be raised by foster parents.

A summary of the cowbird’s unique reproductive strategies includes:

  • Selecting over 220 host species to parasitize
  • Rapid egg laying taking less than 1 minute
  • Egg mimicry to match host eggs in size and color
  • Hatching earlier to outcompete host nestmates
  • Begging louder with wide open mouths

This remarkable nest parasitism allows cowbirds to exploit other species to raise their young.

Ecological Impact of Brown-headed Cowbird

Oh no, your backyard birds might suffer from this aggressive nest parasite! The Brown-headed Cowbird’s impact through nest parasitism disrupts avian diversity and ecosystems. Cowbirds lay eggs in other birds’ nests, outpacing their hosts’ reproduction and reducing populations.

Conservation efforts like trapping Cowbirds and public education help, but more action is required to mitigate the threat.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle
You’ll find Common Grackles throughout much of North America, frequenting open woods near water as well as parks, fields, and lawns where their bold behavior makes them a familiar sight. With their iridescent heads, yellow eyes, and long tails, these noisy and social blackbirds walk with a distinctive strut and produce an array of creaky, metallic, and croaking sounds.

Range and Habitat of Common Grackle

You can find Common Grackles inhabiting open areas near woods across much of North America. Look for them strutting on lawns, foraging in fields, and perching conspicuously near rivers. Their range spans the continent. Omnivores that adapt well to human environments, they thrive on spilled grains, fruits, and aquatic prey.

However, habitat loss reduces breeding productivity. Supporting wetland conservation and reducing pesticide use helps protect grackle populations. Limiting mowed lawns and offering berry plants lures grackles away from rare songbirds sharing the neighborhood.

Behavior and Characteristics of Common Grackle

When perching, their long tails hang down and their necks bend forward, giving common grackles a distinctive hunched silhouette. As members of the Icteridae family, grackles exhibit behaviors like flocking, nesting colonially, and foraging on the ground for foods like cracked corn, grains, berries, and insects.

Known for their loud, grating vocalizations, these highly adaptable blackbirds thrive in human-altered areas. While sometimes considered pests, their chatter brings energy and spirit to urban parks and rural fields alike.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole
No need to head to the tropics to see a splash of color – the brilliant orange plumage of the Baltimore Oriole can brighten up backyards and parks across much of North America in summer. Attract these striking blackbirds to your yard by offering oranges, jelly, or nectar feeders placed high in open trees, mimicking their natural diet of ripe fruit and nectar gathered along forest edges and riverbanks – a habitat preference that gives this species its alternative name, Northern Oriole.

Range and Habitat of Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Orioles breed in open woodlands and riverbanks across much of eastern North America, so keep an eye out for their bright plumage amidst the trees as a harbinger of spring.

  1. These striking birds migrate south to Central America for the winter.
  2. The female weaves an intricate hanging nest from grasses, bark, and plant fibers.
  3. Orioles love ripe fruit, nectar, and jelly feeders set out in backyards.

Their breeding range extends west to the Great Plains, overlapping with related oriole species like Bullock’s and Scott’s Orioles.

Feeding Habits and Diet of Baltimore Oriole

You’re craving those ripe berries and sweet nectar the Baltimore Oriole feasts on. The striking orange and black oriole loves tree-ripened fruit like mulberries, raspberries, cherries, peaches; Baltimore orioles also probe flowers for nectar.

Watch for them at fruiting trees, berry bushes, and Baltimore Oriole-favorite flowers like trumpet vine or honeysuckle. Offer sliced oranges, grape jelly, suet with fruit mixed in to attract them. The Baltimore Oriole’s migration reaches Colorado by early May when fruit trees start to blossom.

Attracting Baltimore Orioles to Your Backyard

Put out orange and grape jelly, as well as chunks of fresh fruit, to satisfy the orioles’ appetite for sweet fruits and juices. Plant flowering shrubs and fruit-bearing trees to provide them with food and habitat.

As an expert ornithologist from my studies, I find orioles migrate north in the spring to nest. Observing their colorful plumage and songs brings you closer to nature’s beauty. Knowing when and where birds migrate and nest provides opportunities to witness avian wonders.

Creating wildlife-friendly spaces protects fragile ecosystems, connecting us all.

Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole
You can find the striking black and orange Orchard Oriole breeding in open deciduous forests, forest edges, river groves, and areas with shrubs across the central and eastern United States. They winter in Central America and prefer similar habitats of open woodlands and scrubby areas with scattered trees.

Range and Habitat of Orchard Oriole

Oh wow, you all can’t even imagine how incredibly immense the range of the Orchard Oriole is across North America! These little birds breed from the Great Plains to the East Coast and down into Mexico, wintering in Central America and northern South America.

Their range overlaps with the Baltimore Oriole’s, but Orchard Orioles prefer more open, shrubby habitats near water rather than deep forests. Seeing the bright orange males fluttering through orchards and river groves in spring is a special treat on their long migration north.

Identification and Behavior of Orchard Oriole

The male orchard oriole’s darker orange plumage helps distinguish him from other orioles as he whistles loudly while foraging on insects and fruit at forest edges. These social birds migrate in flocks, forming colonies in open woodlands along waterways to breed.

The orchard oriole’s pitch-perfect whistling song sounds upbeat yet anxious as he defends his hanging pendant nest from predators. His darker orange feathers stand out among the green leaves when he flies out to catch insects.

Brewer’s Blackbird

The male Brewer’s blackbird’s glossy plumage may catch your eye, but take note of this medium-sized bird’s habits and habitat to distinguish it from lookalikes. Sociable and outgoing, Brewer’s blackbirds vocalize often in colonies and roost in open terrain across much of western North America, encompassing marshes, meadows, and prairies.

Range and Habitat of Brewer’s Blackbird

You’ll often glimpse Brewer’s blackbirds grazing in open country across much of western North America.

  1. They inhabit open forests, thickets, marshes, meadows, and farms.
  2. Nests are built in low bushes, on the ground in a cup of grass and twigs.
  3. Plumage varies; females are brownish-gray with light streaks.
  4. Their songs are musical and varied, ranging from liquid warbles to harsh chatters.

With their large range, stable population trend, and ability to adapt to human areas, Brewer’s blackbirds remain a common blackbird species across the west.

Behavior and Characteristics of Brewer’s Blackbird

Step beyond those marshes and grasslands into Brewer’s blackbird colonies, where their metallic, creaky ke-see songs immerse you in musical chatter. Male and female Brewer’s blackbirds exhibit a complex social structure, foraging in flocks and nesting communally in dense patches.

Their rich vocal repertoire facilitates communication, from territorial defense to courtship displays. Regional plumage variations exist, but the male’s glossy black feathers and yellow eyes make this species unmistakable.

The subtle beauty of Brewer’s blackbirds invites a deeper connection with nature’s music.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbird
Looking to identify blackbirds in Colorado? Pay attention to the bright yellow head and white wing patches of the yellow-headed blackbird, a medium-sized marshland species. Found breeding in wetlands across the western half of Colorado, these gregarious birds forage for insects and seeds in flocks with red-winged blackbirds.

Range and Habitat of Yellow-headed Blackbird

You’d find these striking blackbirds with bright yellow heads in wetlands across Colorado, often nesting alongside red-winged blackbirds.

  • Habitats include marshes, wet meadows, riverbanks, and lakeshores.
  • The range spans western North America from British Columbia to west Texas.
  • They are part of the diverse birdlife inhabiting Colorado’s wetland ecosystems.
  • They prefer shallow, open water with emergent vegetation for nesting and foraging.

Identification and Behavior of Yellow-headed Blackbird

You can spot a Yellow-headed Blackbird by its bright yellow head and white wing patches as it perches conspicuously atop cattails, letting out raspy buzzes and squeaks as it defends its marshy breeding territory.

While nesting, male Yellow-headed Blackbirds are highly territorial, aggressively chasing away intruders with wing-drooping displays and loud calls. The females build cup-shaped nests in dense vegetation, often alongside Red-winged Blackbirds.

Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird
Looking for a range and habitat overview for the Rusty Blackbird? This boreal-breeding species winters across the eastern half of the U.S., though it’s classified as an uncommon winter visitor to Colorado. You’ll find it along streams and wetlands with dense shrubs and trees.

However, keep an eye out, because Rusty Blackbird numbers have plunged by 85-95% since the 1960s due to breeding habitat loss and other factors, making it a species of high conservation concern.

Range and Habitat of Rusty Blackbird

Though once common, the Rusty Blackbird’s range has contracted and this species is now declining across much of its breeding and wintering grounds due to habitat loss. You’ll find Rusty Blackbirds breeding across boreal forests and wetlands in Canada, Alaska, and the northeastern United States.

In winter they migrate south to the eastern and southeastern United States, spending time around wooded swamps and bottomlands. Conservation efforts aim to protect wetland habitats and monitor Rusty Blackbird populations, as they remain vulnerable to continued declines.

Conservation Concerns for Rusty Blackbird

We must act with urgency to halt the steep decline of the Rusty Blackbird before this once-common species vanishes completely from its breeding grounds in the boreal forests and wetlands of North America.

Loss of avian habitat endangers the wetlands vital for Rusty Blackbirds. Declining bird populations signal that ecosystem changes necessitate intervention. Preserving and restoring wetlands could stabilize populations if executed soon. This species offers an opportunity to properly implement conservation efforts.


Despite the ecological impact of certain species, Colorado is home to an abundance of black birds, each with its own unique range, habitat, behavior, and characteristics. From the Red-winged Blackbird to the Rusty Blackbird, these birds offer a variety of colors, songs, and behaviors to admire.

Whether you’re a veteran birder or just getting started, black birds in Colorado can provide a rewarding experience. The key is to be aware of the range and habitat of each species and to take appropriate steps to protect their habitats.

With a little bit of effort, you can help ensure that these birds continue to thrive in Colorado for generations to come.

Avatar for Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim Sweileh is a passionate bird enthusiast and author with a deep love for avian creatures. With years of experience studying and observing birds in their natural habitats, Mutasim has developed a profound understanding of their behavior, habitats, and conservation. Through his writings, Mutasim aims to inspire others to appreciate and protect the beautiful world of birds.