A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Brewer's Blackbird is common throughout the county but especially around human habitation. May be present in almost any open setting, including parking lots, parks, farms, and along the coast. May be solitary, in pairs, or in small groups, but often forms large flocks (especially in the winter), frequently in association with allied birds, such as Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) and Tri-colored Blackbird (Agelaius tricolor), and with European Starling (Sturnis vulgaris).  

Maligned by some bird watchers because it is common, because of its tameness, and for its tendency to hang out around human activity, Brewer's Black Bird is often referred to derisively as the "Parking Lot Bird." Quite unfair, if you ask me. The male Brewer's Blackbird (pictured above) is a rather handsome fellow with a purplish-black head and iridescent greenish blue-black body--although he appears simply black in most lights. The male has a yellowish-white iris that immediately identifies Brewer's Blackbird in the context of Sonoma County (no other mostly black bird commonly present here has a pale eye). Females are greyish (especially the head) with a brown eye (see below), but in the right light, they show a greenish-blue tinge in the wings. Immature birds have pale brownish tints on the head, back, and upper breast, but wings are always black. The similar Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus) will have buffy tints in the autumn, but these extend into the wings, and the head of Rusty Blackbird is greenish rather than purplish. Note, however, that Rusty Blackbird is very rare in Sonoma County. The similar-looking grackles have a pale eye, but they are much larger birds (12-18 inches long, while Brewer's Blackbird is about 9 inches long) and only Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) shows up in the county (and that very infrequently). Red-winged Blackbird has the distinguishing red patch at the shoulder. Female Red-winged Blackbird is recognized by its distinct pale eyebrow, overall streaking, and suggestion of wing bars. Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus Ater) may look similar to Brewer's Blackbird, especially in poor light, but, as its name suggests, the male has a distinctly brown head (see below). Female Brown-headed Cowbird is paler and browner than Brewer's Blackbird and lacks the streaking and eyebrow of female Red-winged Blackbird (see below). The cowbird also has a shorter, heavier bill than the blackbirds.

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 122

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 422

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 172

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 448

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 504

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 649-650

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 614

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 351

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 454

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 338

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 99, 111

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 268-270

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, no entry

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 310

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 354

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 306

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 442

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 723

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 378

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Brewer's Blackbird



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Female Brewer's Blackbird

Spud Point Marina, Bodega Bay, September 13, 2012

For comparison: Female Red-winged Blackbird

Note white above eye, overall striping, hint of wing bar

Crane Creek Regional Park, April 2, 2011

For comparison: Adult male Red-winged Blackbird

For comparison: Brown-headed Cowbird--Note the brown head and dark eye

Female Brewer's Blackbird, Lake Ralphine, February 25, 2012

Note blue-green tinge in wing coverts and tail--often not visible 

For comparison: Female Brown-headed Cowbird--Note paler brownish color; lack of strong striping; shorter, heavier bill. 

Brewer’s Blackbird, Lake Ralphine, Santa Rosa, February 5, 2013

Brewer's Blackbird

Euphagus cyanocephalus

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated May 30, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County