The smallest of the grackles in North America, the common grackle is common indeed with its widespread range and generous adaptability. Despite its abundance, however, these birds can be tricky to identify because of the many other birds they resemble.
Common Grackle, Grackle
- Bill: Long, black, sharply tapered from the forehead, heavy size
- Size: 12-13 inches long with 18-inch wingspan, long tail, long legs
- Colors: Black, brown, yellow, iridescent
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males are black overall with an iridescent hood that can show purple, turquoise or green in bright light. Brown or bronze iridescent hues will show in the body plumage. The pale yellow eyes stand out brilliantly in the dark face. Females are similar to males but are smaller overall and show less iridescence. Both genders have a long tail with a slight wedge shape, but females have a less distinct wedge. Legs and feet are black.
Juveniles are dark brown overall with a dark eye and show very little, if any, iridescence.
Insects, amphibians, fruit, grain, rodents, crustaceans, eggs (See: Omnivorous)
Habitat and Migration:
These birds prefer open areas with some mature trees, particularly large coniferous trees, and they can be found in a wide variety of habitats from open woodlands to parks, marshes, meadows and agricultural fields. They are also common in suburban and urban areas.
The common grackle is a year-round resident throughout the southeastern United States as far west as Oklahoma, Kansas and eastern Nebraska and as far north as southern Wisconsin and southern New York. In summer, their breeding range extends much further, up to the southern part of the Northwest Territories across Canada to southern Quebec, and west to northeastern Utah, Montana and eastern Idaho. In winter, these birds extend only slightly further west in Texas.
Vagrant sightings are regularly recorded as far north as Alaska and much further west than this bird's typically expected range, but identifying vagrants can be tricky because of other local grackles that can look similar.
These are very vocal birds with rusty, raspy voices often described as squeaky hinges. The basic call is a rough single note "chek" and the typical song is a raspy squealing that can last 1-3 seconds and often has a high-low pitch.
These are gregarious birds that gather in flocks year-round, with larger flocks that can number hundreds of thousands of birds in the winter. These large flocks can damage crops and are often considered a nuisance, which can endanger the birds when communities seek to disrupt or destroy the flocks.
While foraging, common grackles walk rather than hop, and they often glance upwards, their pale eyes giving them a surprised expression.
The male common grackle woos potential mates with singing, minor flight displays and fluffing his shoulders out to form a ruffed collar. He will also throw out his chest to show off the iridescence on his plumage.
These are mostly monogamous birds though some instances of polygamy are regularly noted. As colonial nesting birds, they often have multiple nests in a small area. The female builds a bulky cup nest made of sticks, grass and weeds, lined with mud and finer, softer materials such as smaller grasses and feathers. Nests are placed 2-12 feet high, and can contain 1-7 oval-shaped eggs per brood. Egg color ranges from pearly-gray to light tan or pale green, and are marked with purplish or brownish spots.
The female incubates the eggs for 13-14 days, and both parents feed the altricial young for an additional 16-20 days after hatching. A mated pair of common grackles will raise 1-2 broods per year.
Attracting Common Grackles:
These birds can be readily attracted to ground-feeding areas with scattered birdseed or cracked corn. Because they travel in such sizeable flocks, they can be considered bully birds at feeders when they quickly empty out feeders without letting other birds feed.
These birds are common and abundant, but large roosts can be endangered if they are perceived as a nuisance. Prejudice against common grackles, particularly in agricultural areas where they may destroy grain crops, can be vicious, but these birds are still protected under the Migratory Bird Act. Common grackles occasionally host brown-headed cowbird eggs, but not frequently enough to cause problems for nesting birds.
- Great-Tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)
- Boat-Tailed Grackle (Quiscalus major)
- Brewer's Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)
- Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)
- American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
- Brown-Headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
Photo – Common Grackle – Male © Dan Pancamo
Photo – Common Grackle – Female © Dan Pancamo