Great-tailed Grackle

(photo gallery bellow)

Have you ever watched a male Great-Tailed Grackle as he struts along? Great-tailed Grackle|Lake Balboa|Encino, CA He is the very picture of confidence and intelligence; he looks to be totally in charge of himself and his environment.

Description

The Great-Tailed Grackle is found in the southwestern states.  It is closely related Boat-Tailed Grackle which is found in coastal salt marsh areas of some southeastern states.  Both species are very similar in appearance but don’t interbreed (somehow the females can tell the difference!).  Great-tailed Grackles are about 12 ½-18” long. They are pretty much the size of crows, but are much more slender. The males have huge, long tails, either wedge shaped or keel-shaped. Their tails are as long as or longer than their bodies. They also have heavy pointed black bills and pale yellow eyes. They have flat, iridescent purple heads, and have deep bronze or bluish-purple backs.  Their wings are shorter than other grackles.

Females are rather dull compared to the colorful males.  They are smaller, brown over all, with buffy-colored eyebrows, chins and bellies.  Their tails are shorter and have only a slight keel. Their legs, feet and bills are black and they have yellow eyes.

Juveniles are like the females but are paler and have streaking below.  Immature males are smaller and duller than the adult males, with browner wings.  They sometimes have dark eyes.

Range & Habitat

Grackles have moved to the United States from Mexico. Their range is the southern states from California to Florida, however, they are slowly moving more to the north. They prefer areas with a source of water and trees to nest in such as agricultural areas, mangrove areas and urban or suburban areas. They may migrate for the winter from northern areas, but are permanent residents in southern areas.

Behavior

Grackles are very annoying, and are considered pests in areas where great numbers of them gather to roost and nest.  They are noisy, adaptable, opportunistic, and quick learners. They spend most of their time on the ground.  Grackles don’t hop, instead they stalk around proudly; they will wade into the water to forage for food.  The eat acorns, beechnuts, grain, fish, frogs, mice, snails, and small snakes, as well as eggs from other birds and garbage.  Some have been found to follow robins and wait until the robin finds a worm and then they rush in to steal it!

Their song is a “chuck” or “chack” along with squeaking and creaking. They have piercing whistles, squawks, and shrikes which can be heard from long distances away. When the male flies, he holds his tail vertical like a rudder on a boat.  The female flies with her tail horizontal.

Breeding & Nesting

Male Great-tailed Grackles are polygamous and will mate with several females each season.  In early spring, the males return to their nesting sites about two weeks before the females to establish their territories. A male courts a female by ruffling out his feathers in a bowing display, and spreading out his wings and tail. He also will vibrate his wings and dance.  There is a lot of neck craning and so called “heads up” where he points his beak up in the air.  (This motion is also used in a display of aggression).

The pair builds a bulky nest of twigs which is lined with grass and feathers. The nest is usually built in tall conifers.  The pair may nest by themselves or nest in a colony with dozens of other pairs.  Each female lays one clutch of 2-6 eggs and she incubates her eggs for 13-14 days. The male vigorously defends his territory but does not take care of the young.  The young fledge in about16-20 days and are fed by both parents.

Photo Gallery Great-tailed Grackle

(click to enlarge)