Bird ID, please - SE Vermont

I recently saw two birds in a tree while visiting Brattleboro, Vt. They were both a little bigger than a large cardinal, with black heads and wings, and black spots on their breasts, and otherwise offwhite bodies. Their heads were shaped a little like a mallard duck’s, with black feathers sticking sticking straight out the back. They didn’t make any noise.

No pics, sorry. Didn’t have my camera with me.

Maybe a woodpecker? There was no red on their head?
Sounds like a loon, but they don’t really go into trees.
I live in SE Vermont, and that is all I can think of. Curious now…

Royal Terns?

I can’t think of a single bird native to eastern North America that has a black crest, assuming that’s what you mean by “black feathers sticking sticking straight out the back.” The best I can do is the Horned Lark, which does have little black tufts on its head; but they don’t have black wings and only a bit of black coloring on their head.

ETA: Well, that’ll learn me to make statements about black-crested birds. Still, I doubt that terns spend much time in trees as stated by the OP.

Didn’t look like a woodpecker; the beak wasn’t that noticeable.
Didn’t look like any loon I’ve ever seen.
Not a royal tern - the birds in that picture don’t have enough black on their heads or wings, and the beaks are bigger than those on the birds I saw.
Not a horned lark - again, not enough black on its head and wings.

Common Eider?

Never mind…unlikely in Vermont. Not close enough to the shore.

Sort of like the white ones in that photo, yes. Those are closer than any others posted yet. But the head and wings of the ones I saw were all black, and there were black spots on the breast, and feathers sticking out of the back of the heads.

Tufted Duck, maybe? They don’t generally live in this hemisphere, but they’re known to be occasional visitors to both coasts.

Red-Breasted Merganser?

Those are all pretty unlikely to be sitting in a tree. Goldeneyescould conceivably be perching a tree but they lack spots on the breast or a crest.

The Red-Breasted Merganser wings don’t fit all that well, either. Also, they’re a hell of a lot larger than a big Cardinal.

But you did just make me search for photos of one in a tree. And yes, I failed :(.

But I did at least find a Common Merganser hanging with a couple of Wood Ducks in a one ;).

Kinda like that, yes, but without a black breast, and without as duckish a bill.

Not as long a bill, and with black wings.

Agreed. They weren’t Goldeneyes.

No. It wasn’t all-black like that.

It wouldn’t have been a belted kingfisher, would it?

I don’t think so. They had no blue on them, and IIRC the black of the head and wings were connected.

I think you should go to the library or bookstore, acquire a field guide to birds of the North East, and tell us what you come up with. I can think of nothing that has all the attributes you describe.

I just might have to. Thanks to all for your help.

I’m getting ready for bed so I don’t have time to look through our copy, but I wanted to recommend Smithsonian Handbooks’ “Birds of New England” by Fred Alsop. There’s only been one bird we couldn’t ID using it, so your bird, even if it’s a transient species, is probably in it.

My off the cuff guess is that you saw a rose-breasted grossbeak and just didn’t have the right angle to see the red. I’ve seen some and been confused until they’ve turned, so it happens. They’re not crested, but beyond tit mice, blue jays, cardinals, olive sided fly catchers (?) and black capped chickadees, not many NE birds are.