Blackbird is an umbrella term with different meanings in the New and Old World.
In the Old World, this term refers to the Eurasian blackbird or Turdus merula, a “true” thrush species. Eurasian blackbird males are completely black, but they don’t have iridescent plumage or blue heads.
In the New World, it can refer to any of several species belonging to the Icteridae family of passerine birds.
Not all of them are black or have blue heads, but the following thirteen species are blackbirds with blue heads:
- Common grackle
- Jamaican blackbird
- Boat-tailed grackle
- Greater Antillean grackle
- Great-tailed grackle
- Shiny cowbird
- Black oropendola
- Melodious blackbird
- Scrub blackbird
- Rusty blackbird
- Brewer’s blackbird
- Velvet-fronted grackle
- Montezuma oropendola
Note: This list includes extant types of blackbird species with blue heads. It does not refer to black birds in general and does not include species belonging to families other than Icteridae or extinct species. The birds above are not ranked in any particular order.
1. Common Grackle
Scientific name: Quiscalus quiscula
One of the most widespread blackbirds in the USA, the common grackle is native to eastern North America but found on the western side as well.
It is one of the largest blackbirds, around 12 inches long, adult males typically being entirely black.
However, mutations in plumage coloration made it so that widespread common grackles can also have bronze gloss bodies, blue heads, and blue iridescence on wings and tails.
These colorful variations of common grackles are typically found in the Appalachian region, as well as Florida, South Carolina, and southern Louisiana.
Common grackle females are typically a pale blue blotched with brown.
2. Jamaican Blackbird
Scientific name: Nesopsar nigerrimus
An endangered species endemic to its namesake island, the Jamaican blackbird lives at elevated altitudes (over 1,720 feet) in the Blue Mountains in the east and the Cockpit Country in the west of Jamaica.
Medium-sized for a blackbird – around 8 inches long – it has entirely black plumage similar to the common grackle.
However, it is iridescent in the sunlight, a noticeable blue gloss covering its head and upper side, including the wings – essentially, it is a black bird with a blue tint.
Juveniles present a similar coloration to that of adults, but they have a looser texture of the plumage.
3. Boat-Tailed Grackle
Scientific name: Quiscalus major
The boat-tailed grackle is one of the most common blackbirds with blue heads in the southeastern United States, where it’s a permanent resident.
Similar to the common grackle, this is one of the largest blackbirds, growing up to 17 inches long. Males have entirely black plumage, which is iridescent on the head, back, and sometimes wings and chest.
These colorations can vary from midnight blue to bluish purple.
4. Greater Antillean Grackle
Scientific name: Quiscalus niger
Another member of the Quiscalus genus, the greater Antillean grackle has the same plumage color as other grackles on this list – males are fully black with iridescent blue on the head, wings, and back.
The main difference between these grackles and the boat-tailed ones is that females have the same colors as the males – but they are smaller in size and less glossy.
This grackle type is one of the most common blackbirds with blue heads in the Great Antilles and the Caymans.
5. Great-Tailed Grackle
Scientific name: Quiscalus mexicanus
A mid-sized blackbird with blue head in Mexico, the great-tailed grackle is similar to other grackle species in appearance, but there are some important coloration differences.
While males of these species are fully black – like all other grackles – the iridescent patterns are often speckled rather than uniform.
This gives the bird a unique appearance, the bird looking like it’s been splashed with blue paint.
Due to natural mutations, color patterns can vary from bird to bird, some appearing more uniform than others. The blue hue also varies from bright to purplish.
Females have a different coloration, their plumage varying from buff and tawny to chestnut brown on the back.
6. Shiny Cowbird
Scientific name: Molothrus bonariensis
Related to the grackles but part of another family, the shiny cowbird is one of the blackbirds with blue heads in Florida, even if its native range is in South America.
This bird is often associated with open habitats, including agricultural lands and farms where food is abundant.
The appearance is similar to the grackles, the males presenting an iridescent black plumage with purplish blue on the head and upper side.
Female shiny cowbirds are distinct in color, their actual hue and shade varying from subspecies to subspecies.
7. Black Oropendola
Scientific name: Psarocolius guatimozinus
Another New World blackbird with blue head is the black oropendola, even though not all of its head is blue.
In fact, this bird is best described as a black bird with blue cheeks.
The main difference between the oropendola and other blackbird species is that the blue coloration is not due to iridescence, but the cheek feathers are actually bright blue in color.
Another distinctive trait is the bright yellow tail which is present in both males and females. Females, however, don’t have blue cheeks, and their plumage is duller.
Similar to other species, the black oropendola can present a coloration mutation, and some individuals can have iridescent black feathers on the head and neck that appear blue or purple.
8. Melodious Blackbird
Scientific name: Dives dives
The melodious blackbird is a tropical blackbird with blue head common in the semi-open habitats of tropical lowlands.
Its actual range varies from southeastern Mexico to Costa Rica, but populations are also found in Panama, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
Adult plumage is black with a bluish gloss in males. Females lack iridescence; their plumage is more of a brownish-black.
9. Scrub Blackbird
Scientific name: Dives warszewiczi
Found in Ecuador and Peru, the scrub blackbird is one of the common blackbird species in subtropical habitats.
It also lives in tropical areas, mostly in lowland and heavily degraded forests.
The appearance and size are similar to the melodious blackbird. These birds grow up to 12 inches long, and both males and females present iridescence.
However, the gloss is not as evident in this species compared to other blackbirds. Another different trait is the absence of sexual dimorphism.
10. Rusty Blackbird
Scientific name: Euphagus carolinus
Owing its name to the rusty brown splashes on the winter plumage, the rusty blackbird is similar to grackles.
The main difference between this blackbird vs. grackle is the size. Common grackles are about 12 inches, whereas rusty blackbirds are smaller, at only 10 inches long.
Similar to most blackbird species, males are darker than females. In the warm months, these birds are black with an iridescent purple-blue or green gloss. In winter, the plumage turns a rusty blotched color.
Rusty blackbirds are common in Canada and Alaska.
11. Brewer’s Blackbird
Scientific name: Euphagus cyanocephalus
Very similar to the rusty blackbirds, this passerine is another blackbird with a blue head in North America.
Unlike the rusty blackbirds, brewer’s blackbirds don’t change plumage color from summer to winter. However, sexual dimorphism is noticeable between males and females.
Males are iridescent black, the velvety gloss of the plumage being a mixture of midnight blue, purple, and green.
Female plumage is various shades of brown, typically darker on the back and wings and lighter on the underside.
12. Velvet-Fronted Grackle
Scientific name: Lampropsar tanagrinus
A blackbird with blue head in tropical swamps, the velvet-fronted grackle grows to about nine inches in size and is similar to other grackle species.
It is native to South America, typically being found in heavily degraded former forests.
There is no apparent sexual dimorphism – both genders are black and have a blue sheen on all dorsal surfaces. However, females are slightly smaller than males.
13. Montezuma Oropendola
Scientific name: Psarocolius Montezuma
The most iconic blackbird with blue head in Costa Rica, the Montezuma oropendola, is similar to the black oropendola, the main difference between the two being the overall hue of the plumage.
In fact, despite the blackbird moniker, Montezuma oropendolas are actually a dark reddish-brown hue. Their heads have iridescent black feathers that give off a bluish gloss, while the cheeks are bright blue.
The tips of the wings are also bluish-black, while the tail is a bright yellow.