If you’re looking for help to identify black water birds, this will be the best article you read today.
In this post, you will find photos, identification info, bird songs, calls, and all the fun information you need.
Examples of black water birds include the American coot, common loon, anhinga, great cormorant, black skimmer, black swan, surf scoter, and many others.
Black water birds in North America include common loons, black oystercatchers, surf scoters, black guillemots, black skimmers, and others.
Here are the 20 most interesting ones.
Table of Contents
Black Water Birds
- Scientific name: Phalacrocorax auritus
- Lifespan: 6-17 years
- Wingspan: 45-48 in
Double-crested cormorants are large black water birds commonly found around bays, lakes, ponds, canals, and marshes.
They are the most widespread cormorant species in North America and can be recognized by their jet black plumage, small heads, long necks, and thin, strongly hooked orange beaks.
Double-crested cormorants’ most common call is a deep guttural grunt that resembles a pig oinking.
Source: G. McGrane, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
When the breeding season starts, males will develop bushy white eyebrows (feathery tufts).
These birds are excellent swimmers that can dive over 24 feet in depth and stay there for over a minute.
However, since they do not have fully waterproof feathers, after hunting, they will stand on the shore with their wings spread to dry.
Double-crested cormorants are carnivores that feed on fish, and occasionally amphibians and crustaceans.
In the USA, they breed in northern and northeastern parts and migrate to southern states for winter. They are also permanent residents of Florida and states on the Pacific Coast.
The oldest documented wild double-crested cormorant lived to be almost 18 years old!
Read More: Birds that look similar to cormorants
- Scientific name: Anhinga anhinga
- Lifespan: 12 years
- Wingspan: 45 in
Anhingas are large and glossy black water birds commonly found around lakes, freshwater marshes, ponds, and canals of southern USA, Mexico, Central, and South America.
The name anhinga comes from the Brazilian Tupi language and means “devil bird” or “snake bird” which is one of their many nicknames.
While swimming, only their necks appear above water, making them look like snakes, hence the name snakebird.
You will recognize males by their black plumage with white spots on their wings and backs. Females look similar but have brownish necks and heads.
Anhingas have loud clicking calls that resemble sewing machines or croaking frogs.
Source: National Park Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Anhingas do not have waterproof wings and can be often seen drying their feathers in the sun leading to people mistaking them for double-crested cormorants.
The main differences between double-crested cormorants and the anhingas are the anhingas’ longer and wider tails and their pointed beaks (cormorants have hooked beak tips).
They are carnivores that feed on fish, insects, shrimp, crayfish, and sometimes even young alligators and snakes.
Anhingas hunt by spearing fish and other small prey with their sharp and slender bills.
- Scientific name: Fulica atra
- Lifespan: 9 years
- Wingspan: 28-31 in
Eurasian coots are distinctive stocky waterbirds with black plumage.
These members of the rail family also have long toes that are partially webbed, white beaks, and white forehead shields.
They are common in Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Northern Africa and inhabit freshwater lakes and ponds.
- Read More: Examples of animals found in lakes
Look for them swimming in open water or walking across waterside grasslands.
Identify Eurasian coots by their different vocalizations that can include crackling, explosive, or trumpeting calls.
Source: Zarni02, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
When the breeding season comes, they become particularly territorial and aggressive, charging at their competition and hitting with their long legs and feet.
Outside of the breeding season, they will gather in larger groups of several hundred.
Eurasian coots are omnivores that consume algae, seeds, fruit, small prey, and bird eggs.
They are also famous for the rise of the expression “as bald as a coot” used in the 15th century due to their frontal shields.
- Scientific name: Fulica americana
- Lifespan: around 9 years
- Wingspan: 23-25 in
American coots are small chickenlike waterbirds with black plumage, bright white beaks, red eyes, and yellow-green legs.
They also have rounded heads, sloping foreheads, short wings and tails, and large feet.
Although they resemble ducks, American coots are only distantly related to them.
And unlike the webbed feet of ducks, American coots have lobed scales on their legs and toes that allow them to walk easily on land.
American coots are found throughout North America; they inhabit wetlands and open water bodies, including lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers.
Male American coots have alarm calls that sound like “puhlk” while females make “poonk” sounds.
They are common around large flocks together with ducks and geese.
American coots are omnivores that feed on algae and other plants; they will also consume small vertebrates such as fish and tadpoles, and occasionally marsh bird eggs.
They are also one of many examples of birds found in northern parts of Georgia.
- Scientific name: Gavia immer
- Lifespan: 20-30 years
- Wingspan: 50-57.8 in
Common loons are large diving waterbirds with rounded heads and dagger-like beaks.
During summer, adults are black above, white below, and have black heads and bills, and black-and-white spots on their backs.
When the non-breeding season comes, the dramatic black and white colors will change into a winter plumage of dull dark gray with white on the front of the neck and breast.
Common loons breed in Canada, Northern USA, and southern parts of Greenland and Iceland.
After that, they migrate to their wintering grounds on both US coasts down to Mexico, and on the Atlantic coast of Europe.
During the breeding season, these black water birds are common on forested lakes and large ponds; during the non-breeding season, look for common loons on inland lakes, bays, inlets, and streams.
They are also known for their eerie, beautiful calls called the wail, tremolo, yodel, and hoot.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
These excellent divers can stealthily submerge without a splash to catch fish, go over 200 feet below the water’s surface, stay there for up to 5 minutes, and swallow their prey underwater.
Common loons primarily feed on fish, crustaceans, insect larvae, mollusks, and occasionally aquatic plants.
They are monogamous and the pair may breed together for a decade or more. Both the male and the female will often together defend a territory.
- Scientific name: Urile pelagicus
- Lifespan: up to 18 years
- Wingspan: 39 in
Pelagic cormorants are small cormorants but large seabirds that are also known as Baird’s cormorants.
These birds with long necks and tails are all-black with a metallic iridescence during the non-breeding season.
When the breeding season comes, they will develop two short crests on their heads and napes.
They also have long thin beaks and large black webbed feet.
Males and females look similar, though males tend to be a bit bigger.
In North America, pelagic cormorants are widespread along the Pacific coast and breed from California all the way to the Aleutian Islands and the west coast of Alaska.
They inhabit coastal shorelines and islands; during winter they might venture into the open ocean.
They can dive up to 140 feet underwater to catch prey and stay there for two minutes.
Pelagic cormorants are carnivores that feed on fish and small crustaceans (shrimp, in particular).
- Scientific name: Phalacrocorax carbo
- Lifespan: up to 22 years
- Wingspan: 47.5-63 in
Great cormorants are large and heavy water birds that can weigh over 11 pounds and span over 5 feet across the wings!
They are among the largest species of cormorants and can be identified by their black plumage, short legs, fairly long tails, and yellowish skin around their hooked beaks.
Males are usually bigger than females and have long thick necks and blocky heads.
They are also known as great black cormorants and are excellent swimmers. They will dive underwater and pursue their prey using their feet instead of wings.
These largest North American cormorants can be seen along the Atlantic Coast during the non-breeding season.
Great cormorants are carnivores and primarily feed on fish, and some crustaceans, amphibians, and insects.
Although mostly quiet, they will make different guttural noises when the breeding season comes.
- Scientific name: Fratercula cirrhata
- Lifespan: up to 6 years
- Wingspan: 14 in
Tufted puffins, also known as crested puffins, are unique-looking seabirds found throughout the North Pacific Ocean.
They are the largest puffin species; they measure around 14 inches long and weigh around 1.6 pounds.
Tufted puffins are all-black with white faces, long yellow tufts curling around their napes (during breeding season), and very thick orange beaks and feet.
They have short wings that are adapted for diving, swimming, and capturing prey underwater.
Tufted puffins are carnivores that feed on fish and invertebrates, especially squid and krill.
In North America, they breed during summer from Washington State to British Columbia (Canada).
They breed in large colonies on rocky islands and cliffs; one such included over 50,000 birds! When the winter comes, they can be seen on the open sea.
- Scientific name: Gallinula chloropus
- Lifespan: up to 19 years
- Wingspan: 20-24 in
Common moorhens, also known as waterhens or swamp chickens, are medium-sized aquatic birds of the rail family.
They are widespread in Europe, Asia, and Africa and inhabit marshes, ponds, canals, and other wetlands rich in vegetation.
Common moorhens have distinctive black-gray plumage, white undertails, yellow legs, and characteristical red forehead shields.
They live between 18 and 19 years and when a female is ready to mate, she will make a murmur call.
Common moorhens can be very vocal and emit different garbling calls and loud hisses, especially when alarmed.
When their breeding season comes, they become very aggressive and might even attack other waterbirds such as ducks to chase them away from their territories.
Common moorhens are omnivorous and have a diet consisting of different plants and small aquatic creatures. They tend to forage next to or in the water.
- Scientific name: Melanitta deglandi
- Lifespan: up to 18 years
- Wingspan: 31.5 in
White-winged scoters are large sea ducks and the largest scoter species in the world.
They can grow over 4.7 pounds heavy and span around 2.6 feet across their wings!
Male white-winged scoters are silken black overall with large white patches on the wings that are visible mostly during flight.
They also have a distinctive knob at the base of their orange beaks – their necks are thick and their heads have sloping foreheads.
White-winged scoters are common around freshwater lakes and wetlands in the northwestern parts of North America.
These black and white ducks will spend winter on the Great Lakes, the coasts of the northern United States, and the southern coasts of Canada.
They are omnivores that feed mostly on mollusks, crustaceans, fish, insects, and some plants.
Because of their large size, white-winged scoters can dive over 65 feet to find larger prey.
These enormous black waterbirds are also monogamous and stay together for life.
- Scientific name: Cygnus atratus
- Lifespan: up to 40 years
- Wingspan: 63-79 in
Black swans are large water birds native to Australia that inhabit lakes, swamps, rivers, wetlands, flooded pastures, tidal mudflats, and even the open sea.
They breed in southeast and southwest parts of the continent and have been also introduced to England, New Zealand, the USA, Japan, and China.
Identify black swans by their black color (the only black swan species in the world), white wings with extensive bright flight feathers when flying, and red beaks.
Swans have far more neck bones than mammals – 24 or 25 vertebrae compared to only 7 of most mammals.
As a comparison, giraffes, the animals with the longest necks in the world, have fewer bones in their necks (7) than black swans.
While breeding and nesting, black swans are known for crooning, making a soft singing and humming sound.
They are monogamous, stay together for life, and according to a 2004 study, some pairs might split up (their divorce rate is only 6%).
They will also use only one leg while swimming, tucking the other above their tails.
Black swans are herbivores and feed on algae and weeds.
- Scientific name: Larosterna inca
- Lifespan: 2-3 years
- Wingspan: 12 in
Inca terns are large terns and small seabirds with black-gray colors, white mustaches on their faces, white edges on their wings, and bright orange beaks and legs.
The mustache is the health sign of the tern – the longer it is, the healthier the bird.
They were named so because they are common in the habitat ruled by the ancient Inca Empire in South America.
They breed on the coasts of Chile and Peru, on rocky cliffs.
Try to identify them by their catlike “mew” calls.
Inca terns are piscivores that feed on fish, plankton, shrimp, crayfish, crab, etc.
These black water birds are also kleptoparasitic –they steal food from other animals like sea lions and dolphins.
- Scientific name: Rynchops niger
- Lifespan: up to 20 years
- Wingspan: 42-50 in
Black skimmers are large tern-like seabirds that are black above, white below, and have dark brown eyes, and red legs.
During the non-breeding season, they become browner.
They are the largest of the three skimmer species and can measure up to 1 ft 8 inches in length.
Black skimmers are unique for their beaks where the lower mandible is longer than the upper; this allows them to skim along the water surface and catch fish.
These black water birds inhabit rivers, coasts, and lagoons and feed there on small fish, insects, crustaceans, and mollusks.
Black skimmers are permanent residents of southern parts of the United States, around Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Identify them by their barking “kak-kak” calls.
They are social birds that nest in colonies with up to several hundred pairs; both parents will take turns and incubate their 3-5 eggs.
- Scientific name: Fregata magnificens
- Lifespan: 14-30 years
- Wingspan: 85-96 in
Magnificent frigatebirds are enormous seabirds found around coasts and islands in tropical and subtropical waters.
They can measure almost 4 feet long and span up to 8 feet across the wings; this makes them the largest species of frigatebird in the world.
In North America, they are most commonly found in the Gulf of Mexico, around states like Texas and Florida.
Named magnificent due to their striking appearance and behavior, these large red and black birds are easy to recognize due to their huge size, long pointed wings, and long deeply forked tails.
Male magnificent frigatebirds are all-black and have scarlet throat pouches they inflate like balloons during the breeding season.
Females are also black but have white breasts and lower neck sides.
They mostly feed on fish taken in flight from the ocean’s surface and their favorite food is flying fish, tuna, and squid.
Magnificent frigatebirds are kleptoparasitic – this means that they harass and steal fish from other animals.
Despite their massive wingspans, these birds can’t land on water as their feathers aren’t waterproof and they would most likely drown.
- Scientific name: Fregata minor
- Lifespan: up to 40 years
- Wingspan: 81-91 in
Great frigatebirds are large seabirds found in the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans and the South Atlantic Ocean.
They can grow up to 3.4 ft long, span 7 ft 7 in across the wings, and weigh as much as 3.5 lbs.
Male great frigatebirds are completely black and have striking red gular sacs they inflate to attract females. Females have white throats.
As part of the courtship ritual, great frigatebirds will also clatter their beaks, wave heads and wings, and males will call to females while flying overhead.
They have the highest ratio of wing area to body mass and the lowest wing loading of any bird – scientists speculate that this helps them soar at great heights and preserve energy.
Great frigatebirds are seasonally monogamous and stay together for a season.
Just like magnificent frigatebirds, these black water birds will steal fish and other food from other seabirds.
They will chase and harass birds, make them regurgitate their food, and then swoop in and catch the food in the air.
- Scientific name: Cepphus grylle
- Lifespan: 11 years
- Wingspan: 20-23 in
Black guillemots are medium-sized seabirds native to northern Atlantic coasts and eastern North American coasts.
They are also known as tysties and their stunning looks make them one of the prettiest on our list of black water birds.
Black guillemots are deep black with white wings, black beaks, and bright red feet.
They sit on the water like ducks and will dive to catch prey near the bottom.
Black guillemots breed in relatively small scattered colonies, along rocky ocean coasts and islands; they build their nests in rock crevices, lay 2 eggs, and stay monogamous for many nesting seasons.
They are omnivores and feed on fish, crabs, shrimps, some mollusks, insects, marine worms, and bits of plant material.
- Scientific name: Ptychoramphus aleuticus
- Lifespan: up to 16 years
- Wingspan: 15 in
Cassin’s auklets are small and plump seabirds found in the Pacific Ocean.
They belong to the auk family and were named after John Cassin, an American ornithologist from Pennsylvania.
Cassin’s auklets are dark gray-black above, pale gray below, and have small white eyebrows (marks) above their eyes.
They can be also identified by their flight which is described as “a tennis ball with wings flying”.
They breed in large colonies on islands; during the non-breeding season, they are common in the ocean, often alone or in pairs.
Cassin’s auklets are carnivores that hunt by diving. Their diet includes small fish, squid, crustaceans, fish eggs, etc.
These small birds are monogamous, although some males might breed with another female.
- Scientific name: Aethia cristatella
- Lifespan: 8-10 years
- Wingspan: 13-20 in
Crested auklets are dark black-brown stocky seabirds with a crest of feathers on top of their heads.
These small birds have thick, short, and orange beaks, and people describe them as “smiling clowns that never blink and smell like a tangerine”.
Identify them as well by their loud trumpet calls.
Crested auklets are found in Alaska, Japan, and Russia, around island coasts with lots of rocks and boulders; during the non-breeding season, they live on the open ocean.
They are very social birds that nest in colonies that can include over 1 million individuals!
Crested auklets are planktivores (carnivores) and feed on krill, copepods, pteropods, etc.
They forage in deep waters, together with other auklets, and dive to grab their food.
- Scientific name: Melanitta perspicillata
- Lifespan: 9-10 years
- Wingspan: 30-36 in
Surf scoters are large sea ducks native to North America.
They are molt migrants – after nesting, adults will go to a specific area to molt their flight feathers.
Surf scoters are completely black with some white patches on the forehead and the nape; females are slightly smaller and more brown.
They breed in Canada and Alaska and migrate to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America for winter.
Surf scoters breed in boreal forests near freshwater lakes and winter in marine habitats near the shore.
These birds are mostly quiet but will make a couple of sounds: gurgling calls, explosive “puk-puk,” and “guk” alarm calls.
To catch the prey, they will dive and go up to 30 feet deep.
Surf scoters are carnivores and mostly feed on mollusks, crustaceans, aquatic insects, small fish, marine worms, etc.
- Scientific name: Haematopus bachmani
- Lifespan: 10-14 years
- Wingspan: 28-36 in
Black oystercatchers are large black birds commonly found on the shorelines of western North America.
They can be identified by their all-black plumage, long red beaks, pink legs, red eyes, and red rings around them.
Black oystercatchers inhabit rocky marine habitats that provide both nesting and foraging areas.
They have razor-sharp beaks they use to pry open oysters and other bivalves for food, hence the name “oystercatcher”.
These social birds can be often seen during the day foraging, preening, resting, and sunbathing.
They have a global population of around 10,000 individuals; around 400 of those are estimated to live in the state of Washington.
Part of their scientific name, “bachmani,” is after John Bachman, the friend of naturalist John James Audubon that named the species.
This concludes our list of black water birds.
Examples include several species of auklets, terns, swans, frigatebirds, ducks, cormorants, and many others.
Next time, should you see these birds in person, you should be able to recognize any of them with ease!
And if you enjoyed our article, here are our other popular reads on birds: Examples of large white birds