Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Grackles -- Mon., Apr. 8

Grackles ... guttural sounding, interesting way of flowing off the tongue. But what is it? It's a bird, it's a plane, it's great-tailed grackle!

It is a bird. We never heard of them before. In Texas, they're everywhere; large, soaring masses of grackles. A large group of grackles is called a plague.

What prompted this blog was our son mentioning yesterday, "Aren't grackles something?" Yeah, they are. But what do we really know about them?

Grackles are members of the Icteridae family of small- to medium-sized, passerine (perching) birds. There are four genera and 11 species native to North and South America. (One species went extinct in 1910.) Grackles are grouped in with blackbirds, meadowlarks and cowbirds. This blog will tell you about the three most common grackles in the United States: common, great-tailed (or Mexican), and boat-tailed.

Birds of prey, especially falcons, are the predators of these birds.

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) facts:

Common Grackle, Cotulla, Texas
  • 11-13 inches long
  • Purple, green or blue iridescence on its head
  • Primarily bronze in the body
  • Breeding habitat consists of open and semi-open areas across North America east of the Rocky Mountains
  • Forage on ground, shallow water or in shrubs
  • Eats insects, minnows, frogs, eggs, grain, seeds, berries, garbage and has been know to eat small birds and mice.
  • Practices "anting," crushing and rubbing ants on its feathers and body. The formic acid from the ants is thought to help kill parasites. Many birds use this practice, and also "ant" by sitting passively on an ant nest to let the ants roam their bodies and feathers. Alternatively, grackles rub walnut juice, marigold blossoms, chokecherries, lime, lemon or mothballs on their skin. If you ever put mothballs in your yard or under your RV and find them in new places, it may be grackles have moved them!
  • Northern birds migrate in flocks to the southeastern U.S.
  • In winter, Common Grackles forage and roost in large communal flocks with several different species of blackbird. The flocks can number in the millions of individual birds. We have seen hundreds of them spread out along power lines at major intersections. It's a crap shoot to drive under them, literally!
  • Grackles are the tallest, longest-tailed blackbirds you will see.
  • The oldest recorded Common Grackle was 22 years, 11 months old.
  • Grackles can mimic sounds of other birds or humans, though not as accurately as a mockingbird.
  • Grackles are the #1 threat to corn, eating not only the ripening corn, but the sprouts as well.
Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus):
  • Male 16-17"; female 12-13"
  • Tail very long and keel-shaped
  • Male black, with iridescent purple on back and breast. Female smaller, brown with pale breast. 
  • Eyes are always yellow.
  • Range from California, Colorado, Kansas, and western Louisiana southward.
  • Habitat is farmland with scattered trees and thickets.
Boat-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus major):
  • Males are glossy blue-black all over
  • Similar to the Great-tailed Grackle
  • Female has reddish-brown chest and no iridescence.
  • Habitat: coastal species through most of their range.
  • Large, dark, slender-bodied blackbird
  • Nests and roosts in bushes and marshes.
  • Long, wedge-shaped tail, often folded up
  • Boat-tailed Grackles have dark eyes
Welcome to new subscribers: Cheryl Ann of Deep Canyon and Sandy of Traveling Suitcase blog.

Travel Bug flying the coop.


  1. They can sure take over a bird feeder when they come to visit. Not my favorite birds.

  2. Being in Austin, TX, I can tell they are everywhere around here as well. It's a bit eerie when there are a bunch of them flocked in a tree!

  3. How appropriate that a large group of them is called a plague.

  4. Your post offered some very interesting information about grackles. I had never heard of anting.


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