Smaller Than Crows: A Guide To Identifying Small Black Birds

With their jet black feathers, many small black birds may look like miniature crows at first glance. However, several species are actually smaller members of the songbird family that inhabit backyards and parks across North America.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Some common black birds smaller than crows include grackles, blackbirds, cowbirds, starlings, and black-capped chickadees.

In this approximately 3000 word guide, we will highlight key identification features, size comparisons with crows, habitat and range information, and interesting facts about some of the most prevalent black bird species smaller than crows.

Helpful photos, charts, and expert tips will allow you to confidently identify these small black birds.

How to Identify Small Black Birds

Small black birds can be challenging to identify, as many species share similar characteristics. However, by paying attention to certain factors, you can become more confident in distinguishing one species from another. Here are some tips to help you identify small black birds:

Size Comparison

When it comes to identifying small black birds, size can be a helpful clue. Comparing the bird’s size to familiar objects can give you a better understanding of its dimensions. For example, some small black birds, like sparrows or blackbirds, are typically smaller than crows.

By observing their size in relation to other birds, you can narrow down the possibilities.

According to the Audubon Society, the average length of a crow is around 17-21 inches, while sparrows and blackbirds are generally around 5-8 inches in length. This significant difference in size can assist you in distinguishing between these species.

Distinctive Markings and Features

While small black birds may appear similar at first glance, they often have distinctive markings or features that set them apart. Pay close attention to the bird’s beak shape, eye color, and any unique patterns on its feathers.

For example, the red-winged blackbird is a small black bird with a bright red patch on its wings, making it easily distinguishable from other species.

Some small black birds, such as the common grackle, have iridescent plumage that can appear black from a distance but reveals vibrant colors when viewed up close. Taking note of these details can help you identify the specific species you’re observing.

Calls and Songs

The calls and songs of small black birds can also provide valuable clues for identification. Each species has its own unique vocalizations, which can vary in pitch, rhythm, and pattern. By listening carefully to the bird’s calls or songs, you can narrow down the possibilities.

Online resources like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website offer extensive databases of bird sounds, allowing you to listen to recordings and compare them to the sounds you hear in the field.

This can be a helpful tool for identifying small black birds based on their vocalizations.

Remember, identifying small black birds can be challenging, especially for beginners. However, with practice and attention to detail, you can become more proficient at distinguishing one species from another. Happy birding!

Profiles of Common Small Black Birds

Red-winged Blackbirds

Red-winged blackbirds are small black birds with distinctive red and yellow shoulder patches on the males. These birds are commonly found in wetland areas such as marshes and along the edges of lakes and ponds.

They are known for their loud and melodious songs, which they use to establish their territory and attract a mate. Red-winged blackbirds are omnivorous, feeding on a variety of foods including insects, seeds, and berries.

Common Grackles

Common grackles are glossy black birds with long tails and yellow eyes. They can be found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, open fields, and urban areas. These birds are highly adaptable and are often seen foraging for food on the ground or in trees.

Common grackles have a varied diet that includes insects, fruits, seeds, and even small vertebrates. They are known for their raucous calls and their tendency to gather in large flocks.

Brown-headed Cowbirds

Brown-headed cowbirds are small black birds with a distinct brown head and a stocky build. These birds are known for their unique breeding behavior, as they do not build their own nests. Instead, female cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other bird species, leaving the host bird to raise their young.

Brown-headed cowbirds can be found in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, forests, and agricultural areas.

European Starlings

European starlings are small black birds with a glossy plumage that is speckled with white during the winter months. These birds were introduced to North America in the 19th century and have since become one of the most abundant bird species on the continent.

European starlings are highly adaptable and can be found in a wide range of habitats, including urban areas, agricultural fields, and woodlands. They are known for their mimicking abilities and can imitate the songs of other bird species.

Black-capped Chickadees

Black-capped chickadees are small black and white birds with a distinctive black cap and bib. These birds are commonly found in forests and woodlands throughout North America. Black-capped chickadees are known for their friendly and curious nature, often approaching humans with a sense of curiosity.

They have a varied diet that includes insects, seeds, berries, and even small vertebrates. These birds are also known for their unique vocalizations, including their signature “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” call.

Attracting Small Black Birds to Your Yard

If you’re a bird enthusiast looking to attract small black birds to your yard, there are a few key elements you’ll want to focus on: food sources, water sources, and shelter. By providing these essentials, you can create an inviting environment that will entice these beautiful creatures to visit and potentially even make your yard their home.

Food Sources

One of the most effective ways to attract small black birds is by offering them a variety of food sources. These birds have diverse diets, so incorporating a mix of different foods will increase your chances of attracting a wide range of species. Some popular options to consider include:

  • Black oil sunflower seeds: These seeds are highly nutritious and are a favorite among many small black birds, such as black-capped chickadees and house finches.
  • Suet: Suet is a high-energy food that is particularly appealing to woodpeckers and nuthatches.
  • Fruit: Offer slices of apples, oranges, or berries to attract birds like American robins and cedar waxwings.
  • Mealworms: Loved by many insect-eating birds, mealworms can be a great addition to your bird feeder.

By providing a variety of these food options, you’ll be sure to attract a diverse group of small black birds to your yard.

Water Sources

Having a reliable water source is crucial for attracting birds of all kinds, including small black birds. Consider incorporating a bird bath or a small pond into your yard to provide these birds with a place to drink and bathe.

Make sure to keep the water clean and fresh, changing it regularly to prevent the growth of algae or bacteria.

If you live in an area where freezing temperatures are common, consider investing in a heated bird bath to ensure that water is available year-round. This will make your yard even more attractive to small black birds during the colder months.


Offering shelter is another important factor in attracting small black birds to your yard. These birds need places to rest, hide from predators, and build their nests. Here are a few ways you can provide shelter:

  • Plant native trees and shrubs that provide both food and cover for small birds.
  • Install birdhouses specifically designed for small birds, such as chickadees or titmice.
  • Leave brush piles or fallen logs in your yard to create natural hiding spots.

By offering a variety of shelter options, you’ll increase the likelihood of small black birds choosing to frequent your yard.

Remember, attracting small black birds to your yard may take some time and patience. Be consistent with providing food, water, and shelter, and soon enough, you’ll be rewarded with the joy of these beautiful birds gracing your yard with their presence.


While crows and ravens may be the largest and best-known black birds, observing the smaller black-feathered songbirds that share our living spaces can be just as rewarding. By understanding key identification features, sounds, behaviors, and preferred habitats of species like grackles, blackbirds, cowbirds, starlings, and chickadees, anyone can become a skilled identifier of these charming backyard visitors.

With the tips and profiles provided in this guide, you’ll be able to readily spot and appreciate the diversity of black birds smaller than crows right in your own neighborhood.

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