The Omnivorous Great-Tailed Grackle Continues to Expand Its Range Across North America
Male and Female Great-Tailed Grackles
Great-tailed grackles tend to appear wherever there are people since people are more likely to provide them (intentionally or unintentionally) with everything they need for survival - water, seeds, trees, and even insects or lizards. Most of us can expect to see more great-tailed grackles as their range continues to expand across North America, just as it has been for the last century or so. When you see one of these birds flying across the sky, you may think it's a crow, but if you look closer you can see its piercing yellow eyes. Some people call the great-tailed grackle a Mexican grackle because of its scientific name, which is Quiscalus mexicanus.
We are fortunate enough to have one lone male that visits our birdbaths on a regular basis and even more fortunate to have been able to capture this beautiful bird photographically.
A Great-Tailed Grackle's Diet
The great-tailed grackle loves to eat various insects on land, which include caterpillars and grasshoppers but they will also eat baby birds or even the eggs of other birds. Water areas also provide much of their diet as they eat several aquatic insects as well as small fish, crabs, shrimp, snails, frogs, mussels and tadpoles. They also depend on fruit, grain, and grass seed when available.
These birds are also known to remove and eat ectoparasites from livestock.
The Great-Tailed Grackle Bathing
You can find a great-tailed grackle in many different habitats - towns, farms, city parks, marshes, and mangroves to name a few.
Historically, this bird was found almost exclusively in Central and South America but thanks to human modifications the environment changed not only for people but for the great-tailed grackle as well. It now has a range that extends in the United States north to eastern Oregon (although some have been seen as far north as Canada); south to parts of Peru, and east as far as west Arkansas.
Courting, Mating, Nesting
Great-tailed grackles are social birds; they are loud and boisterous but never more so than when they are bobbing and bowing and trying to attract the attention of a potential mate. In early spring, the male birds establish breeding territories that are strongly defended against other males. The male bird fluffs his feathers as he perches out in the open with rapidly-fluttering wings. While making loud, harsh calls, he sits with his bill pointed straight up into the air in an attempt to threaten other birds that might encroach on his territory. Any such encroachment will likely result in a period of ground fighting between the males as they lock talons in an attempt to determine which of the males can lay claim to that particular territory.
These birds nest colonially. Hundreds of pairs will nest together at times, although you might also find only a few pairs nesting together in various sites chosen by the female bird, although they are usually found nesting in an area of dense vegetation near water. Their nests, guarded by the male but built by the female bird over a period of about 5-14 days, are occasionally constructed up to 50 feet high in tall trees. The nest is constructed like an open cup and is made of whatever materials are available, including weeds, grass, and twigs, some of which are often stolen from other females. The cup, which usually measures about four inches deep and wide, is often lined with mud or cow manure and fine grasses. The complete nest can be up to a foot deep and eight inches across.
The female will lay about 3-4 eggs which are a pale blue/grey/green color, marked with black, brown or purple. Incubation by the female only is about two weeks and the young will leave the nest about three weeks after they hatch.
The Snake Was No Match
A Great-Tailed Grackle Invasion
- Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.
- Reader's Digest Book of North American Birds (1990)
© 2019 Mike and Dorothy McKenney