Grackles are known as bullies and get a bad rap for their behavior at bird feeders. They are, however, intelligent birds that are members of the New World blackbird family.
Grackles look like stretched blackbirds, with long tails and glossy iridescent black coloring. Females are mainly brown.
Grackles form massive noisy swarms that can reach in the hundreds or thousands. They love to roost by parking lots near fast food restaurants. Check out this swarm of Boat-tailed Grackles in Houston.
There are 11 species of grackle in the world, and 3 of these are found in North America. They are native to North and South America. Common Grackles are the most widespread of the three grackles in North America.
This guide will help you identify the species of grackles spotted in the United States and Canada, according to avibase. The birds in this list are ordered by how frequently they are spotted, from most frequent to least frequent, according to bird watchers’ checklists for the state submitted to ebird.
3 Species of Grackle in North America:
- Common Grackle 14.4%
- Great-tailed Grackle 3.2%
- Boat-tailed Grackle 2.0%
Grackles in North America
1. Common Grackle
Common Grackles are blackbirds that are taller and longer tailed than a typical blackbird and with glossy iridescent bodies. Females are slightly less glossy than males.
- Quiscalus quiscula
- Length: 11.0-13.4 in (28-34 cm)
- Weight: 2.6-5.0 oz (74-142 g)
- Wingspan: 14.2-18.1 in (36-46 cm)
Common Grackles are resident all year in southeastern states, but those that breed in Canada and the Midwest migrate south.
Their habitat is varied and includes open woodlands, marshes, parks, and fields. They eat many crops but mostly corn and gather in noisy groups high up in trees. They will also eat garbage and so can be a nuisance.
Although they may gather in their millions, they are on the IUCN red list as near threatened due to the 50% decline in their numbers since the 1970s.
Common Grackle sounds: They make a series of croaks, squeaks, and whistles.
Nests of Common Grackles are made of twigs, leaves, and grasses are placed high up in conifer trees near water. They lay 1 – 7 eggs, which take about two weeks to hatch, and then the nestlings fledge in around another two weeks.
Attract Common Grackles to your backyard with mixed grain and seed sprinkled on the ground or on platform feeders.
Fun fact: Common Grackles may gather in their millions in winter to forage and roost, mixed in with other species of blackbird.
2. Great-tailed Grackle
Great-tailed Grackles are long slender blackbirds with impressive long tapered tails in the males. Males are iridescent black with piercing yellow eyes. Females are also long-legged and slender but are dark brown on the back and lighter brown underneath, with more slender tails.
- Quiscalus mexicanus
- Length: 15.0-18.1 in (38-46 cm)
- Weight: 3.7-6.7 oz (105-190 g)
- Wingspan: 18.9-22.8 in (48-58 cm)
Great-tailed Grackles can be found in the West and Midwest in agricultural and urban areas, generally where humans are.
Great-tailed Grackles’ diet is grains, seeds, and fruit, as well as insects and other animals such as worms, beetles, spiders, bees, slugs, and snails. They will also sometimes eat small mammals and lizards as well as eggs and nestlings.
Great-tailed Grackle sounds: They have a fantastic array of whistles, shrieks, and rattles.
Nests of Great-tailed Grackles are usually high up in trees and made from grass, weeds, and twigs. First, mud lines the nest, followed by soft grass.
Great-tailed Grackles may be seen strutting across your lawn and can be attracted to seed dropping from feeders above. They will also eat black oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and millet on platform feeders or large hopper feeders.
Fun fact: Male Great-tailed Grackles are up to 60% heavier than females.
3. Boat-tailed Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle males are large glossy black songbirds with long legs, long pointed bills, and a long tail. Females are dark brown on the back and paler brown underneath and half the size of the males.
- Quiscalus major
- Length: 10.2-14.6 in (26-37 cm)
- Weight: 3.3-8.4 oz (93-239 g)
- Wingspan: 15.3-19.7 in (39-50 cm)
Boat-tailed Grackles live along the Gulf Coast and all over Florida near saltwater. You can find them around marsh edges, beaches parks, or in towns looking for discarded food.
They feed on anything from seeds and crustaceans to any food scraps they can find.
Boat-tailed Grackle sounds: Their song is a series of jeep-jeep-jeep sounds, often ending with a higher pitch squeak. They also scream and clack as alarm calls.
Nests of Boat-tailed Grackles are in tall grasses by marshes and build the nest out of woven stems and grass and add wet mud and leaves to create the cup. Soft grass and pine needles are then added. One to five eggs are laid, and hatching and fledging take about two weeks each.
Attract more Boat-tailed Grackles to your backyard with sunflower seeds, millet, or corn from platform feeders.
Fun fact: Boat-tailed Grackles form harems of females, and only the highest-ranking male can mate.