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What is a black shiny bird in massachusetts?

Massachusetts is home to a diverse range of bird species, both resident and migratory. Among the black-colored birds found in the state, there are a few that stand out for their shiny, iridescent feathers.


One of the most common and widespread black birds with glossy feathers in Massachusetts is the Common Grackle. This large songbird belongs to the icterid family, which includes blackbirds, orioles, and meadowlarks. The Common Grackle has distinctive shiny bronze or purple-black plumage and a long, keel-shaped tail.

Two subspecies occur in Massachusetts – the Purple Grackle and the Bronzed Grackle. The Purple Grackle is found across much of the state, while the Bronzed Grackle is more common in western parts of Massachusetts.

Some key facts about Common Grackles in Massachusetts:

  • Length: 11.5-13 inches
  • Wingspan: 14-18 inches
  • Weight: 3.4-5.3 oz
  • Sexes appear similar in plumage
  • Diet consists of insects, grains, seeds, fruits, small fish, frogs, mice, eggs, and more
  • Nest in a variety of tree species, shrubs, and man-made structures
  • Males and females build the nest together
  • Breeding occurs from late March to July
  • Lay 3-7 eggs per clutch
  • Sometimes considered a nuisance species for crop damage and aggressive behavior around feeders

Grackles are commonly seen in open areas like fields, parks, beaches, marshes, and near human habitation. They often gather in large noisy flocks, sometimes numbering in the hundreds or thousands of birds.

Red-winged Blackbird

The Red-winged Blackbird is another familiar shiny black bird in Massachusetts. Males are all black with bright red and yellow shoulder patches called epaulets. Females are dark brown with streaky plumage.

Some key facts about Red-winged Blackbirds in Massachusetts:

  • Length: 6.7-9.1 inches
  • Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 inches
  • Weight: 1.1-2.7 oz
  • Sexual dimorphism – males and females differ in plumage
  • Diet includes insects, grains, seeds
  • Nest in marshes, wet meadows, fields
  • Breeding occurs from April to August
  • Lay 3-5 eggs per clutch
  • Males are very territorial and defend their nest sites

These birds are a common sight in wetlands across Massachusetts. They favor open, grassy areas close to water. Large flocks form in late summer and fall before migration.


The Common Raven is a large, all black corvid found across Massachusetts. With its dense black feathers that shimmer with iridescence in sunlight, it is arguably one of the most beautiful black birds in the state.

Some key facts about Common Ravens in Massachusetts:

  • Length: 20-26 inches
  • Wingspan: 45-48 inches
  • Weight: 1.5-3.5 lbs
  • Broad, wedge-shaped tail
  • Thick black bill and shaggy throat feathers
  • Diet is omnivorous – eats carrion, small animals, eggs, fruit, seeds
  • Nest high up in trees, on cliffs, and man-made structures
  • Breed from February to April
  • Lay 3-7 eggs per clutch
  • Highly intelligent birds that sometimes mimic human speech

Ravens occur year-round across the state in a variety of habitats, from forests to beaches to cities. Their loud, gurgling calls are a familiar sound.


American Crows are glossy black birds commonly seen across Massachusetts. They have an all black plumage that shows purple and blue iridescence in bright light. American Crows are close relatives of ravens, though smaller in size.

Some key facts about American Crows in Massachusetts:

  • Length: 15.8-20.9 inches
  • Wingspan: 33.5-39.4 inches
  • Weight: 11.2-21.9 oz
  • Square-tipped tail
  • Diet includes insects, grains, fruits, nuts, eggs, mice, carrion
  • Nest high up in trees
  • Breed from March to June
  • Lay 3-9 eggs per clutch
  • Form large winter roosts numbering in the thousands

American Crows are extremely common throughout Massachusetts. They thrive in urban areas, woodlands, fields, and coastal habitats.


Several species of blackbirds with shiny black plumage can be found in Massachusetts. These include:

  • Brewer’s Blackbird – Medium sized with a glossy black body, white eyes, and yellow eye-ring. Most common in western Massachusetts.
  • Rusty Blackbird – Medium sized with black plumage that has a bluish sheen. Yellowish eye and pale bill. Most common during migration and winter.
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird – Male has striking yellow head and breast with a glossy black body. Rare visitor to western Massachusetts.


The European Starling is an introduced species now common across Massachusetts. Adults have glossy black plumage with an iridescent sheen that can appear dark green or purple in bright light. Some key facts:

  • Length: 7.9-9.1 inches
  • Wingspan: 12.2-15.8 inches
  • Weight: 2.1-3.4 oz
  • Pointed wings and short tail
  • Yellow bill turns darker in breeding season
  • Gregarious birds that form large flocks
  • Diet includes insects and fruit
  • Will nest in cavities in trees, buildings, bridges, and more

European Starlings are extremely numerous throughout Massachusetts. They thrive in urban areas, farms, parks, and a variety of open habitats.

Blackbirds and Allies Table

Species Length Wingspan Weight Other ID Tips
Common Grackle 11.5-13 in 14-18 in 3.4-5.3 oz Long keel-shaped tail
Red-winged Blackbird 6.7-9.1 in 12.2-15.8 in 1.1-2.7 oz Bright red & yellow shoulder patches
Common Raven 20-26 in 45-48 in 1.5-3.5 lb Thick bill, shaggy throat
American Crow 15.8-20.9 in 33.5-39.4 in 11.2-21.9 oz Square-tipped tail
European Starling 7.9-9.1 in 12.2-15.8 in 2.1-3.4 oz Pointed wings, short tail

This table provides some key identification features to help distinguish these common black shiny birds found in Massachusetts.

Behavior and Habits

The black glossy species covered all have some common behavioral traits and habitat preferences:

  • Omnivorous diets – They are opportunistic feeders eating a varied diet.
  • Gregariousness – Many form large flocks, especially when feeding and roosting.
  • Adaptability – They thrive around human presence and do well in urban areas.
  • Nest sites – Most nest off the ground in trees, shrubs, or on structures.
  • Migration – Some species like Red-winged Blackbirds are short-distance migrants. Others like Common Ravens are year-round residents.

However, there are also some key differences between these species:

  • European Starling – Very social, aggressive, and noisy. Roosts communally in winter. Mimics calls of other species.
  • Common Grackle – More solitary nester, but forms large nomadic flocks. Flight is slow and undulating.
  • Red-winged Blackbird – Males are territorial and defend nest sites with displays. Often perches on cattails and grasses near marshy areas.
  • Common Raven – Soars high in flight. Intelligent birds that sometimes mimic human speech and play in flight.
  • American Crow – Often observed in family groups. Roosts communally at night, sometimes by the thousands.


The black coloration of these species serves important functions:

  • Camouflage – Provides concealment in dim habitats, against dark substrates, in shadows.
  • Signaling – Visual display for mate attraction and communication (e.g. epaulets in Red-winged Blackbird).
  • Thermoregulation – Absorbs radiant heat from sunlight.

However, their feathers don’t appear solid black under all conditions. The glossy iridescence is produced by structural coloration of the feathers. Melanin pigments absorb certain wavelengths of light while the feather microstructure reflects specific colors through interference effects. This iridescence can appear blue, green, purple, bronze, or multi-hued depending on viewing angle.

Identification Tips

Here are some tips for identifying black glossy birds in Massachusetts:

  • Pay attention to size and proportions – Ravens are much larger than crows, which are larger than grackles and blackbirds.
  • Note the beak size and shape – Thick and curved in ravens, stouter in crows, pointed and conical in blackbirds.
  • Check for colored patches – Red or yellow shoulders indicate a Red-winged Blackbird.
  • Assess the tail shape – Broad and wedge-shaped in ravens, graduated in grackles, short in European Starlings.
  • Listen for vocalizations – Crows give a familiar “caw caw”, grackles buzz and chatter, starlings make a cacophony of noises.
  • Observe behavior – Soaring flight may indicate a raven, flock feeding could be starlings or grackles.
  • Consider range and habitat – Compare your location and habitat to known species ranges.

Taking note of multiple features will help ensure accurate identification. Plumage coloration alone is not enough to distinguish these species.


Massachusetts hosts an array of black colored birds that exhibit glossy iridescent plumage, including grackles, blackbirds, crows, ravens, and starlings. While superficially similar, these species can be accurately identified by differences in size, proportions, behavior, vocalizations, habitat, range, and small plumage details like epaulets. Paying careful attention to these attributes will help any birder reliably tell apart these common black shiny birds.

With a diversity of wetland, forest, urban, and coastal habitats, Massachusetts provides excellent opportunities to observe these species. The best locations include freshwater marshes, ponds, fields, parks, beaches, and backyards. Use the identification tips outlined here to confidently recognize and appreciate the many black glossy birds found throughout Massachusetts.