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.
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.
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.
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.