Bullies or Beauties? All About Grackle Birds

Grackles are large blackbirds that have a reputation as bullies at feeders. There are three types of grackle birds to look for across America.

Types of Grackles

Couclc19 Sonja Mauk 4Courtesy Sonja Mauk / Country magazine

Common Grackle 

These medium-sized, lanky birds have glossy dark feathers. Their heads look blue or purple in the light, in contrast to their bronzed iridescent bodies. In some parts of the southeast, their bodies are more purple and/or green. Also look for long tails and bills and yellow eyes. The common grackle is larger than a red-winged blackbird but smaller than a crow. Common grackles can be spotted from Canada and the Great Plains to the southeastern states.

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Bnbbyc19 Geralyn BartolazziCourtesy Geralyn Bartolazzi

Great-Tailed Grackle 

The great-tailed grackle has bold yellow eyes that seem to stand out against their dark silky-looking feathers. Like the common grackle, in the sunlight, they appear to have a blue/purplish color tone. However, their broad, fan-shaped tails set them apart. Their heads are flat, not rounded like boat-tailed grackles. These birds are common from Texas and Oklahoma to southern California.

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Boat-tailed GrackleDennis Govoni/Getty Images

Boat-Tailed Grackle 

Look for these birds throughout Florida and along the eastern and Gulf coasts. Boat-tailed grackles have rounder heads than the great-tailed grackles and dark (not yellow) eyes.

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Female great tailed grackle in grassDon & Melinda Crawford/UIG/Getty Images
A female great-tailed grackle in Oklahoma

Female Grackles 

Females grackles are a bit smaller than males with duller plumage. The female great-tailed grackle is dark brown above and lighter brown on the chest, with a light brown eyebrow.

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boat tailed grackleCourtesy Andrea Valle
Juvenile boat-tailed grackle

Juvenile Grackles

According to birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman, the photo (above) shows a young male boat-tailed grackle molting into adult plumage. “The head and parts of the bird’s wing still have brown juvenile feathers, but the black adult feathers have grown in on other areas of the wing and body. The tail feathers are frayed, but after the new feathers grow in, the tail will look longer and blacker. The bird may be in an awkward adolescent phase now, but it won’t stay that way for long.”

juvenile gracklesCourtesy Darrell P Delahousaye
Adult common grackle and two juvenile birds

Juvenile common grackles are brown with dark colored eyes. “In the first week of July, I heard some loud bird noises outside our home in Prescott, Wisconsin. Stepping out to see what was going on I saw this adult common grackle and two youngsters on a nearby wire having a very loud family discussion. I went for my camera hoping they’d still be there when I got back. They were, and I got this action shot (above). The young ones are obviously wanting to be fed!” says Darrell P. Delahousaye.

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common grackles on bird feederCourtesy Daniel Sexton
Male common grackles point their bills up to show dominance

What Do Grackles Eat?

Grackles will eat many types of grain and seeds, including cracked corn and sunflower seeds, as well as peanuts. They also eagerly devour suet. In summer, these birds also eat insects, berries and small animals such as frogs and mice.

The Kaufmans advise, “If you’re dealing with a large flock of grackles, the good news is that it’s probably a migratory flock that will stay only a few days before moving on. If they linger too long, you might simply stop filling the feeders for a few days until they go.

Or switch to a different type of feeder. “A tube feeder for thistle (nyjer) seed, with very small perches, will be challenging for grackles but just fine for small finches,” the Kaufmans said.

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common grackleCourtesy Teri Metts
Common grackle in winter

Do Grackles Migrate?

Grackles are found year-round throughout most of the United States. Birds that breed in the northern part of their range migrate short distances for winter.

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Common Grackle on the nestalexeys/Getty Images
A common grackle feeding hatchlings in the nest.

Grackle Nest

Female grackles construct the nest, often choosing nest sites in conifer trees that offer dense cover. These birds may nest in large groups or colonies near water.

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Great Tailed GrackleCourtesy Gregory Robbins
Great-tailed grackle

Are Grackles Corvids?

Though they are each large dark colored birds, grackles are not related to crows. Grackles are in the Icteridae, or blackbird family, which includes orioles and cowbirds. Crows are corvids, more closely related to jays and magpies.

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Lori Vanover
Lori Vanover is the senior digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She enjoys growing vegetables in containers and raised beds and watching for birds in her backyard.