There are many reasons why birds may have black and white plumage, including the fact that they may use it to hide from predators (camouflage), that they use it to identify their own species, and that they use it as a form of courtship. Because of these reasons, there ends up being numerous bird species with this particular pattern.
In this article, we’ll be going over 15 bird species that are black overall, but with white bellies.
1. Spotted Towhee
Scientific Name: Pipilo maculatus
Range: Southern Canada, United States, Mexico
The spotted towhee is a large sparrow consisting of black plumage above, white spots on the wings and back, rusty-colored sides, and a white belly. Its eyes are ruby red and it has a very long tail. White corners on the tail can be seen during flight.
The spotted towhee prefers habitats with open woods, undergrowth, and brushy edges. Examples include chaparral, mountain manzanita thickets, scrub oaks, and pinyon-juniper woods that contain dense understory. They are often found foraging on the ground by scrapping at leaf litter. They’re known to visit feeders as well.
The spotted towhee feeds mainly on insects, seeds, and berries, the exact type of which depends on the season. During the summer and breeding seasons, they’re usually consuming a protein-rich diet consisting of many insects, such as beetles, caterpillars, and moths. This changes to include more seeds, acorns, berries, and fruit during the colder winter months.
2. Eastern Towhee
Scientific Name: Pipilo erythrophthalmus
Range: Midwestern and Eastern United States, Rarely in Southern Canada
The eastern towhee is a large sparrow with black plumage above, rusty-colored sides, and a white belly (overall similar to the spotted towhee, but is blacker above with the only white patch coming from the wings). Its eye color may vary from white (southeastern United States) to dark red (northern United States, Canada). White corners on the tail are noticeable during flight.
The eastern towhee prefers shrubby woodlands, fields, scrublands, and any other habitat that contains plenty of ground cover for them to search for food. Forest edges and thickets are also common habitats. They are known to visit feeders.
The eastern towhee’s diet consists mainly of insects, seeds, acorns, berries, and fruits. They eat a wide range of insects, such as beetles, caterpillars, moths, and ants, during the summer. Larger animals, such as small salamanders, lizards, and snakes are also consumed occasionally during breeding seasons.
3. Downy Woodpecker
Scientific Name: Dryobates pubescens
Range: North America
The downy woodpecker is a small woodpecker consisting of black plumage on the head, wings, and back, white plumage on the belly, and a short bill. Small black markings are visible on the white outer tail feathers. Compared to the eastern population, the pacific population has smaller white spots on the wings and a grayer body.
The downy woodpecker can be found in nearly any wooded habitat, such as forests, woodlots, willows, river groves, orchards, and shade trees. They can be found both in the wilderness and in more urban areas, such as suburban backyards. Western population is more restricted to riparian areas.
A typical diet for the downy woodpecker includes black oil sunflower seeds, millet, peanuts, and chunky peanut butter. They are particularly fond of suet in bird feeders. They may also occasionally drink from oriole and hummingbird feeders.
4. Carolina Chickadee
Scientific Name: Poecile carolinensis
Range: Southeastern United States
The Carolina chickadee is a small, stout passerine bird with gray plumage overall, a black cap, a black throat, white cheeks, and a white belly. It uses its short, sturdy bill to break open seeds. Appears similar to the black-capped chickadee, but this bird has duller gray wings and less buffy coloration on the flanks.
The Carolina chickadee is mainly found in deciduous forests and woodlands, as well as in pine woods with a mix of oak and other leafy trees, and in densely wooded suburbs. The Carolina chickadee has most of its range to itself; however, there are areas where it shares its presence with the black-capped chickadee. This bird is known to visit feeders.
The Carolina chickadee feeds mainly on insects and spiders but will also consume seeds and berries in the winter. Caterpillars make up a large part of their diet during the warmer months, though it also feeds insects such as moths, true bugs, beetles, and aphids. Weed and tree seeds, berries, and small fruits are consumed in the colder months.
5. Black-billed Magpie
Scientific Name: Pica hudsonia
Range: North America
The black-billed magpie is a large magpie with a black back, head, chest, purple wings, and a white belly. Its long tail and bold, contrasting coloration are unmistakable in flight.
The black-billed magpie prefers to live among the meadows, grasslands, and sagebrush plains in the Western United States and Canada. They prefer open habitats away from dense vegetation but will stay near cover in order to avoid predators. They can be spotted along roadsides in the open country, fields, and suburban towns.
The black-billed magpie’s diet consists mainly of insects, such as grasshoppers, caterpillars, flies, and beetles. They are also known to consume carrion, rodents, and the eggs and young of other birds.
6. Blackpoll Warbler
Scientific Name: Setophaga striata
Range: North America, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname
The blackpoll warbler is a large warbler that, for breeding males, consists of a solid black cap, white cheeks, and a white belly.
Breeding females have plainer colors yet are streakier than males, while non-breeding females and juveniles have dull yellow heads and breasts with blurry streaks, white wing bars, and white undertail coverts. Orange feet distinguish juvenile blackpoll warblers from juveniles of other similar warblers.
The blackpoll warbler breeds in the stunted spruces of coniferous and boreal forests, while they may inhabit any forested habitat during migration.
The blackpoll warbler feeds mainly on insects and berries. Common insects include aphids, scale insects, caterpillars, beetles, wasps, ants, and others. They may also consume spiders (and their eggs), pokeberries, and some seeds during the breeding season.
7. Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
Scientific Name: Pheucticus ludovicianus
Range: North America (except Alaska), Central America, and northern South America
The rose-breasted grosbeak is a large seed-eating grosbeak that, for breeding males, consists of a black head and back, a white belly, and a bright red triangle on the breast. Nonbreeding males, females, and juveniles have streaks below, along with a bold head pattern.
They always have a sturdy, pale pink beak and more streaking on the underparts compared to other similar grosbeak and finch species.
The rose-breasted grosbeak’s preferred habitats include deciduous forests, forest openings, old pastures, and shrubby roads, as well as more urban areas, such as gardens, parks, and residential areas. They are known to visit bird feeders.
The usual diet for the rose-breasted grosbeak includes insects, seeds, and berries. Common insects include beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and true bugs. During the colder months, they will consume more plant matter, such as seeds, berries, fruits, flowers, and the occasional nectar.
8. Black-Capped Chickadee
Scientific Name: Poecile atricapillus
Range: Mid and northern United States, Canada
The black-capped chickadee is a small, plump bird that is gray overall with pale yellow flanks, a black cap, white cheeks, a black throat, and a white belly. It uses its short sturdy beak to hammer open seeds.
Compared to the similar Carolina chickadee, the black-capped chickadee has a brighter white color on its wings and slightly yellower flanks.
Typical habitats for the black-capped chickadee consists of woodlands, such as deciduous and mixed deciduous-evergreen forests. They are particularly fond of forest edges and can be found near willows and cottonwoods. They are common backyard visitors who will visit bird feeders.
The usual diet of the black-capped chickadee includes seeds, berries, insects, invertebrates, and small amounts of carrion. As common visitors of bird feeders, this bird also loves to eat suet and peanut butter.
9. Black Phoebe
Scientific Name: Sayornis nigricans
Range: Northwestern United States, Central America, western South America
The black phoebe is a medium-sized flycatcher that varies in appearance depending on its location. Those in north America are characterized by mainly black bodies with a clean white belly, while those in south America have white edges on the wing feathers and less white coloration on the belly. They frequently lift and lower their tails.
The usual habitats for the black phoebe include semi-open areas such as shady streams, walled canyons, and more urban areas such as farmyards and towns. They can be found in most habitats near a water source. They are almost never seen far from a water source as the water allows the presence of mud, which the bird uses to build its nests.
The black phoebe consumes almost entirely insects, such as beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, wild bees, flies, and caterpillars. As they are almost always near a water source, black phoebes consume small fish and sometimes even feed them to nestlings.
10. Tree Swallow
Scientific Name: Tachycineta bicolor
Range: North and Central America
The tree swallow is a common, medium-sized swallow that, for males, consists of iridescent blue-green upper parts, black wings, and a black tail, and for females and juveniles, consists of a dull brownish plumage with almost no iridescence. All have bright white underparts. They are overall very compact, with broad wings and a somewhat notched tail.
The tree swallow mainly inhabits open habitats, such as grassy fields, lakes, marshes, lakeshores, and streams. They breed in cavities, including man-made nest boxes.
The tree swallow feeds mainly on insects, such as flies, beetles, and winged ants, as well as spiders and sand fleas during the summer. Up to 20% of their annual diet consists of plant matter, which they eat during winter.
11. Eastern Kingbird
Scientific Name: Tyrannus tyrannus
Range: North, Central, and western South America
The eastern kingbird is a large flycatcher consisting of dark gray plumage above, bright white plumage below, and a black head. Pay attention to the distinctive white tail tip.
Usual habitats for the eastern kingbird include open, savanna-like habitats that are close to water. They may also be found in fields and grasslands consisting of scattered tall trees, such as parks, forests along rivers, forest openings, and golf courses. This bird can often be seen perching out in the open on top of tall trees, snags, fences, and utility lines.
The eastern kingbird feeds heavily on large insects, such as beetles, moths, wasps, and dragonflies, which they wait for and then snatch from midair. They may also consume rodents, frogs, and fruit, the latter of which they usually consume during the winter in conjunction with insects.
12. Red-Headed Woodpecker
Scientific Name: Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Range: Southern Canada, Midwestern and Eastern United States
The red-headed woodpecker is a large woodpecker that, for adults, consists of a bright crimson head, a black back, white wing patches, and a white belly. Unlike other woodpeckers, the white patches on the red-headed woodpecker have very intricate patterns that, along with the red-colored head, allow it to be easily identified in the wild. Juveniles of the species have brown-colored heads.
The red-headed woodpecker is often found in open forests containing clear understories, such as pine plantations and stagnant timer in beaver swamps. Other trees containing habitats include deciduous woodlands, open woodlots, wetlands, riparian forests, and more urban landscapes, such as golf courses, cemeteries, and parks.
The red-headed woodpecker consumes mainly seeds, nuts, berries, fruits, insects, invertebrates, and the eggs and young of other birds. They are known to visit feeders, especially during winter, as they are quite fond of suet.
13. Eurasian Oystercatcher
Scientific Name: Haematopus ostralegus
Range: Europe, Rarely in the Middle East, Central Asia, and East Asia
The Eurasian oystercatcher is a common and noisy large shorebird consisting of black plumage above and white plumage below, along with a long bright orange-red beak and thick pink legs. Bold white wing stripes, a white rump, and a white tail with a black tail tip can all be seen during flight.
The Eurasian oystercatcher is often found in varied coastal habitats, such as beaches, mudflats, adjacent fields, and occasionally inland. They are overall fans of soft, sandy, or muddy substrates.
The Eurasian oystercatcher, despite its name, doesn’t really feed on oysters. Instead, it uses its long beak to probe in the mud and pry open other types of shellfish, such as mussels and cockles.
Scientific Name: Alca torda
Range: Eastern North America, Europe
The Razorbill is a seabird with black upper parts and white underparts, with thin white lines in front of the eyes, and a thick and sturdy beak. Its white throat wraps up behind the eyes during winter. Appearance is similar to that of other murres, but its beak shape and longer tail (which is sometimes held up) make this bird unique.
The razorbill’s habitats include the open ocean and sea cliffs, the latter on which they will build their nests. They usually seek food at depths above 200 feet, so this is usually near offshore shoals or ledges.
The typical diet of the razorbill consists of mainly small fish, such as the sand lance, herring, sprat, capelin, and cod. They are also known to occasionally consume crustaceans and marine worms. They frequently dive underwater in search of fish, so observations can sometimes be difficult.
15. White-Bellied Bush Chat
Scientific Name: Saxicola gutturalis
Range: Timor, Rote, and Semau Islands
The white-bellied bush chat is a flycatcher that, for males, consists of black plumage above and white plumage below, along with two white shoulder patches. Females are a rusty-brown color above, with white eyebrows and a creamy white underside. Compared with the pied bush chat, this bird has a distinctive white belly and a much longer tail.
Both individuals and pairs of this bird occupy the canopies of the subtropical or tropical moist forest, woodland, and savanna within lowlands and hills. Because their habitat is very restrictive, the white-bellied bush chats are threatened due to habitat loss.
The exact diet of the white-bellied bush chat is not known due to its limited numbers within its habitat, however, being a flycatcher, it’s predicted that this bird mainly feeds on insects. Such insects typically include caterpillars, moths, butterflies, beetles, true bugs, and others. They may also consume spiders and the occasional fruit or berry.
Even though we’ve looked at several birds across the globe that have black plumage and white bellies, this is merely a short list consisting of some of the most common birds you may encounter. As mentioned earlier, with so many purposes for having black and white plumage, it’s almost impossible to determine just how many birds share this common trait.