Seen a Black Bird with White Stripes on Wing?
This Is It!

Wondering if you just saw a bird version of a zebra? It can be either a downy woodpecker, a black and white warbler, or a black-billed magpie!

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David A. Swanson

July 04, 2021

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What’s This Post About?

Bird watching is a divine experience, but it can often leave you with numerous questions and curiosity. This is especially the case if you are unable to identify the bird that you just saw.

If you find yourself in such a situation, remember to quickly observe a few things to research later.

Try to retain as much as you can about what you can physically see. Appearance is the easiest way to help ID a bird. Other things that can help you make sure are behavior, sound, nesting, and the kind of food you see it foraging for.

If there is white and black streaking throughout the body, it is a black and white warbler. If the bird is black overall with white wings, then it may be a black-billed magpie. It may also be a downy woodpecker with a black upper back and white spots on the wings.

a black and white warbler is sitting on a tree

How to ID a Bird?

black billed magpie is sitting on a fence

With over 800 bird species in the United States and Canada, it’s common for a novice bird observer to get overwhelmed by options. Field guides appear to be filled with roughly comparable birds organized in what seems to be a random sequence.

Many species of birds can be identified with only a glance by bird watchers. The four visual identification keys they’re employing are:

  1. Size & Shape

  2. Color Pattern

  3. Behavior

  4. Habitat

A Downy woodpecker, black and white warbler, and a black-billed magpie can confuse a blackbird with white stripes on wings. All three of them are found in North America.

To clear the confusion about which bird you saw, we will dissect these four keys for each of the three possibilities.

Downy Woodpeckers

a downy woodpecker is sitting on a wooden fence

The energetic Downy Woodpecker can be found at home feeders, parks, and woodlands.

The most evident difference that this bird has is its red spot that shines distinctly on the background of white and black. This will make it difficult to confuse it with the other two.

1. Size and Shape

Downy woodpeckers are the smallest woodpeckers in North America, varying from 14 to 18 cm in length. The wingspan of this bird is observed to be approximately 25 to 31cm long.

Not that you would be able to measure the bird’s weight at a distance, but for your information, they have a body mass of around 25-30grams.

Downy Woodpeckers have a smaller body design than typical woodpeckers. They have a stiff and small beak, broad shoulders, and a straight-backed stance. In addition, compared to other woodpeckers, the bill appears to be smaller in proportion to the bird’s size.

2. Color Pattern

Downy woodpeckers are a beautiful mixture of black and white. Their markings are unique and specific. Therefore once you know its color pattern, it will be difficult to confuse it with any other bird.

The bird has a black upper body with a white back and belly. There are also white stripes and a little red spot on the head.

It appears as if the woodpecker’s black wings have white bars. In reality, the wings are black, with white spots occurring in a horizontal line pattern.

A female downy woodpecker is almost identical in the pattern except for the red spot on the head, and the belly has a brown tint to it.

a downy woodpecker is sitting on a branch

3. Behavior

Downy Woodpeckers have a far easier time navigating horizontally and descending to trees than most other woodpeckers. Downy Woodpeckers spread their tails, lift their crest plumage, and shake their bills from left to right when fighting with another species.

a downy woodpecker sitting on a branch

In late summer, you could spot them mounted on tall grasses, pounding away at a plant to access the larva inside. They may also hop on the ground seeking food sometimes.

During winters, you are most likely to catch a downy woodpecker in flocks as they have a greater chance of obtaining food and driving away predators.

Did You Know?

These woodpeckers don't sing, and they pound vigorously on metal or wood to create a similar impression.

4. Habitat

Although it prefers to avoid the dry southwest, the Downy Woodpecker is numerous and abundant in North American forestlands.

This is the smallest woodpecker frequently visiting towns and municipal parks and flocking to household bird feeders. You may find them nesting within building walls.


Downy Woodpeckers may also be found in open regions, where they can nest among fencerows and forage among tall grasses.

In many locations, they are permanent residents, but in the cold, the northern communities may migrate south. In the winters, certain woodpeckers from the Rockies and other western highlands may migrate down to lowlands and a fair distance southward.

Black and White Warblers

a black and white warbler sitting on a branch

Even with the most typical colors, you will be able to identify a black and white warbler. The most prominent feature that it has is its color pattern.

Even though the entire body is streaked, the difference in directions and their combination makes it stand out.

1. Size & Shape

The black and white warbler is slightly smaller in length as compared to downy woodpeckers. It has a size that varies from 11 to 13 cm.

The main difference lies in the wingspan length, which is around 12-22cm. The body mass, which is way less in comparison, is approximately 8 grams to 15 grams.

This small bird has a thin bill that curves slightly towards the end. The head isn’t very distinct and appears flat as it joins the body with a tiny neck. The black and white warbler has long wings and a shorter tail compared to conventional standards.

2. Color Pattern

Just as the name suggests, the black and white warbler is black and white. What is interesting here is the most matchless pattern made out of the two most typical colors.

Both the genders have black and white striped heads with white eyebrows. The male, however, has a black throat while the female has a white one.

The rest of the body is also heavily streaked. The difference lies in perhaps the stripes’ direction that creates a very distinct pattern on the bird. The belly is white with black stripes. It has black wings with white wing bars.

3. Behavior

It used to be known as the ‘Black-and-white Creeper’, which accurately depicts its behavior.

It climbs around on tree trunks and main branches of trees, like a creeper looking for insects in the bark cracks. It eats and nests in low places, generally on the ground.

a black and white warbler is sitting on a tree top

These birds make their tiny cup-shaped homes in the fallen leaves of woods in eastern and central North America, even though they usually only see them in trees.

The Black-and-white Warbler is one of several migratory warblers to arrive, and its thin, squeaky singing is among the first signals that springtime has arrived.

Black-and-white Warblers are aggressive, attacking and fighting other species that come into their area. This violent behavior continues into winters, where they protect their territory and even chase fellow black and white warblers away.

4. Habitat

The black-and-white warbler has a wide range of environments in which it may be found. It favors mature woodland for nesting but will also use coniferous forests.

Woody and diverse forests are preferred habitats, although this warbler often frequents marshy areas.

Black-billed Magpie

a black billed magpie is sitting on a branch

After reading and studying the other two birds, it will be pretty difficult to confuse it with this magpie. Here the most obvious difference would be the bird’s size.

Unlike the other two birds, it does not have many patterns but has two areas of different single designated colors.

1. Size & Shape

If it comes just down to size, the black-billed magpie will be easily identifiable compared to the other two. It has a length of about 45 to 60 cm which is substantially longer than them.

However, its wingspan is not much larger, measuring up to approximately 20 to 21 cm long. Black-billed magpie is heavier, with a body mass ranging from 141 grams to 216 grams, mainly males.

The bird’s shape is elongated because of its tail which is about 20-23 cm. Interestingly, the other two birds would probably be as long as the magpie’s tail. The beak of the bird is thick and curved upward.

2. Color Pattern

Unlike the other two birds, the black-billed magpie has a jet-black body with no streaks or stripes. The white appears side to side, covering part of the wings and the bird’s belly.

While some may confuse the bird for being completely two-toned, there is a surprise third color appearance. The appearance of blue makes this bird even more distinct, except that it is not always visible.

Did You Know?

The wings and tail have a bluish green tone to them in a good light.

3. Behavior

The black-billed magpie frequently builds nests in tiny dispersed populations. They create a massive nest that takes up to forty days to make. Males follow females during courting, often displaying their white wing patterns.

a black billed magpie is sitting on a branch

They sit at the treetops to visibly define their dominance, just like other species of birds do with their calls. Magpies have a swaggering stride as they move.

They may congregate in flocks, even appear to live collectively, and join together to attack a predator.

Did You Know?

They can utilize scent to find food, unlike other birds.

Ticks are commonly picked from the backs of big animals like deers by magpies.

The magpie consumes the ticks or stores them for later usage, as crows and jays frequently do with leftover food. The majority of the insects, on the other hand, are stored alive and undamaged.

4. Habitat

Black-billed Magpies may be found in the West’s pastures, meadows, and arid plains. River channels are mainly occupied as their breeding habitats.

Even though they prefer open regions and are seldom seen in deep woodlands, they remain near to shelter to avoid predators.

Magpies do not fear humans, and they frequently enjoy hours around barnyards, agricultural areas, and cattle ranches, where they can quickly obtain sustenance. Friendly and curious, they forage in small clusters.

Black-billed Magpies commonly approach platform bird feeders throughout their area. In smaller cities, they are pretty frequent and may explore huge yards.

Keep Reading!

One of the most enjoyable aspects of bird watching is the difficulty of recognizing birds. It may appear hard at first, but it will become simpler and more fun with tips shared in this post.

Next time you see a bird that seems to be black with white stripes, try to recall all that you have learned today. With this additional knowledge, you will be able to recognize the bird quickly. Read more about essential backyard bird-watching gear that can make this experience even more effortless.

Backyard Bird Watching Essential Gear for Beginners - Fantastic & Amazing Guide

Are you interested in knowing what could make your bird-watching experience enthralling? Read on to find out about the essential gear you need to own.

David A. Swanson Picture

By David A. Swanson

Bird Watching USA

My name is David and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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David A. Swanson Picture

David A. Swanson

Bird Watching USA

My name is David and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!



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