My family and friends all know of my nerdy hobby of birding. One of the frequent questions I get is, "There is this black bird I keep seeing. What is it?" My father-in-law, who introduced me to birding, loves the refrain "A black bird is not just a blackbird." So here are few quick identification tips to help you figure out what that black bird is.
Male Red-winged Blackbirds have that distinctive red shoulder patch with a yellow line. Their eyes are black too. There is no irridescence (color changes due to light reflecting off the feathers) on the Red-wings. Females don't look anything like the males. They look like a large streaky sparrow as shown in the picture below. Red-winged Blackbirds love water areas with lots of cattails and reeds.
Yellow-headed Blackbirds also love riparian areas with reeds. Their yellow heads and distinct squawking make them easy to separate from the other black birds.
Brewer's Blackbirds are very irridescent with blue and green tones reflecting off their shiny black feathers. The main thing to look for in identifying them is that distinctive yellow-white eye. I often see them feeding along the edge of Highway 55 during the Spring and Summer.
Brown-headed Cowbirds are easily confused with Brewer's because its black and shiny. The brown head isn't always a distinguishable as it is in the photo. But the key is to notice the dark eye as compared to the Brewer's.