Monday, March 24, 2014

Bumble Bees of North America

– An Identification Guide by Williams, Thorp, Richardson & Colla from Princeton University Press

I just got my hands a wonderful new book; Bumble Bees of North America and I must say, I couldn’t be more impressed.  This is a fine, paperback book of good quality and with many color photographs, charts, identification keys and maps.  I have so much good to say about the field guide, let me get the two not-so-good things out of the way first.  A few of the photographs seem a bit dark and out of focus.  The latter is likely due to magnification, but with the new world of inexpensive, quality cameras, I’d have expected better from a bug book.  Also, I’m older and find 10 pt type just too small for comfortable reading.

That said, I absolutely love the book; it is full of wonderful facts like the fact that bumble bees are really just hairy wasps, that have evolved to become vegetarian rather than carnivore; they require pollen proteins rather than meat proteins.  Who knew?

The first part of the book includes information about attracting, decline & conservation, threats, maps and seasonal activity and a Forage Guide by Ecoregion which includes specific plants foraged by bumble bees in that region.

More than half of the book is divided into four groups of specific anatomical differences.  Apparently there is so much color variation within a specific species of bee; color cannot be used as an identification marker itself.

Within each of the four groups, is a two-to-three-page species account of each bee in that group.  Identification both by naked eye and microscope, photographs of both male and female and charts showing color variations found in the specific species.  Maps, status, habitat, nesting behavior and seasonal occurrence are also given for each species.  I find the list of sample foods preferred by each bee might help me with my ‘Pollinator Garden’.

Just before the well organized glossary, full of macro-photographs and diagrams, is a thirty-page identification-key to female vs male bee.  This part of the book is well over my head, and quite scientific. The book is clearly written for both for amateur and entomologist.

All in all, I find the book perfectly helpful in my quest for information about these big ‘bumblers’.  Who knew there are cuckoos in the bumble bee world, that are every bit as parasitic as any cuckoo in the bird world; taking over other’s nests so that other bees will feed and nurture their offspring for them?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Mid-August: Great Horned Owl

For several days, I've heard a couple Great Horned Owls hooting back and forth across my yard.  Mid-August is too late for this to be a breeding pair, so I know these are likely newly fledged youngsters checking out the neighborhood.  When Carlos came to work on repairing my wood floors, he heard the owls and immediately found one way up high;  I don't know how he did it.  'Course, now I call him Owl-eye.

Can you see what I see? (Hint: look almost dead-center)
This young bird is about three stories up in a huge willow (or cottonwood) tree; well hidden from other birds and trouble that sometimes comes to new fledged predator-birds. Talk about camouflaged.

He moved a bit and I zoomed a bit closer, but he's still cautious.
See how he lies along the branch? That is also a camouflaging technique. As are his 'horns' that many assume are his ears. Actually, they are just tufts of feathers for the purpose of breaking up his silhouette. They often sit close to the trunk for the same reason; one of the best ways to spot these big owls is to look for the lump that doesn't belong...along the trunk or along a branch, like this guy.

 I learned we can tell he is a youngster because he still
has a bit of the rufus (brownish-red) feathering
around his face and head.  

This is the best shot of a GHO I've ever taken.  As high as he was, I'm surprised it's not more blurry.  As big as a bird as he is, he's actually a small Great Horned Owl.  Males of most predator bird species are smaller, by about a third, than their females. By the time a bird leaves the nest, they're about full grown, and this guy is I assume he's male. 

After giving the youngster a bit of a break, my 'adopted daughter', Rheanne came over and I handed her my camera.  Now, she is a photographer.  In the mean time, the bird had moved some, so I suggested she try a shot from the other side of the tree.  This is what she got:

By Rheanne Velie
Photographs by: myself, except as labeled.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Boat-tailed Grackle - Quiscalus major


The Boat-tailed Grackle was once considered the same species as the Great-tailed Grackle, though its body size is larger, it has a longer tail and lacks the Great-tailed Grackles’ distinctly flat head-shape; this bird’s head is round.  This is a medium sized grackle; at just a couple inches longer than the Common Grackle.

A large, long-tailed blackbird, the Boat-tailed Grackle
is found exclusively along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts
of the United States.

The noisy, iridescent, purple-black male has a bluish sheen visible on the head, in good light, and grading to greenish on the body. The extroverted bird is hard to miss when it displays on power lines and telephone poles.  Young males are black but lack the adult's iridescence.  The smaller, brown female has a shorter tail and reddish brown plumage overall, darkest on wings and tail. She is quite beautiful but is much less conspicuous and might even be mistaken for a different species.  Young females resemble pale adult females, with spots on the breast.

Boat-tailed Grackle, eating shrimp.

 General Description:

  • Iridescent black body, usually more blue-green
  • Larger, longer tail; held in deep ‘V’ during display flights
  • Very large, long bill
  • Yellow to brown eye color, depending on range/subspecies

Measurements: Both Sexes

10.2–14.6 in
26–37 cm
15.4–19.7 in
39–50 cm
3.3–8.4 oz
93–239 g

A US native and endemic only here, this grackle is resident along Atlantic coast from Long Island and New Jersey south, throughout peninsular Florida, and west along Gulf coast to southeastern Texas.  Boat-tailed Grackles have established significant populations in several United States Gulf Coast cities and towns where they can be found foraging in trash bins, dumpsters and parking lots.

Courtship: The courtship antics of this race are similar to those described for the eastern form (see p. 366). A great variety of locations may be used by the displaying or singing bird; E. A. Mellienny, (1937), writing about the bird in Louisiana, gives a clear picture of such proceedings as follows:

Their favorite station for plumage exhibition is the top of a small bush or low tree. If these are not available, they will alight on the ground or on a muskrat house or pile of debris. Here they stay quietly for some minutes, with their feathers compressed and beak and neck pointing skyward, then suddenly one of them will give a series of squeaking, chuckling, raucous cries, during which all the feathers are fluffed, tail spread, wings half opened and vibrated rapidly, making a loud, rattling sound [see Voice]. The others of the group immediately follow the leader's example, and for a minute or two each individual is animated and noisy, only to drop back to the compressed statue like pose. This noisy exhibition takes place either while at rest or on the wing.

If, over such a group of males, flies a female seeking a mate, all of the males at once take flight on loudly flapping wings and with rattling quills, squeaking and calling in their most seductive manner, begin chasing her. Should none of this group of males attract her, she quickly out flies them and proceeds to look over other groups until she finds her choice. When a mate is selected she flies in front of and near him, leading him off to one side, until the other males in the group drop out of the chase. The pair then alights on the ground and mating is accomplished.

These Grackles generally nest near or over water, in willows, cattails, saw grass, bulrushes or up to 80’ high in trees.  The nest is a well-concealed cup in trees or shrubs; where three to five eggs are laid.

Boat-tailed Grackle eats various invertebrates, grain, some small vertebrates; forages on ground, mudflats, and in shallow water.  They are omnivorous, eating insects, minnows, frogs, eggs, berries, seeds and grain, even small birds. Larger injured birds are taken by the Boat-tailed Grackle when opportunity offers; sandpipers, heron,egret and more. They will steal food from other birds…or from pet-food bowls.

During the spring and summer the food consists largely of a wide range of aquatic life: fish, frogs, insects, crustacea, and spiders. The boat-tail's ability as a fisherman is considerable, and it is often to be seen wading in pools or marshy creeks, up to its belly, making accurate stabs of the beak at minnows of various sorts. In some of these maneuvers it immerses the entire head, in others it hovers like a petrel. The boat-tail seems very fond of the crayfish, and often searches this creature out on its own; but, as related under "Behavior," it sometimes seizes them from other birds, notably the eastern glossy ibis and probably some of the herons. The bird is quite good as a flycatcher, and secures various insects on the wing with apparent ease

This bird's song is a harsh jeeb, and it has a variety of typically grackle-like chatters and squeaks, and the characteristic rolling or rattling sound; often accompanied by a wing-flutter, as shown here.

Cool Facts

  • Eye color in the Boat-tailed Grackle varies from region to region. Grackles along the Atlantic coast north of Florida have straw-colored eyes. Florida birds have dark eyes. Grackles west of Florida to eastern Louisiana have light eyes, but those further west have dark ones.
  • Fledglings that fall into the water can swim well for short distances, using their wings as paddles.
  • The Boat-tailed Grackle has an odd mating system: harem polygyny or female defense polygyny. Females cluster their nests, and the males compete to defend the entire colony and mate there. The most dominant male gets most of the copulations in a system similar to that used by many deer. But all is not as simple as it seems. Although the dominant male may get up to 87% of the copulations at a colony, DNA fingerprinting shows that he actually sires only about 25% of the young in the colony. Most of the young are fathered by non-colony males away from the colonies.

·         Wikipedia
·         Cornell’s All About Birds
·         Birds by Bent
·         The Crossley Guide – Eastern Birds
·         Kaufman Focus Guide – Birds of North America
·         Smithsonian Field Guide to Birds of North America
·         Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America
·         Wikipedia
·         YouTube

Monday, May 7, 2012

Great-tailed Grackle - Quiscalus mexicanus

These 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.

The Great-tailed Grackle, or Mexican Grackle, was historically almost exclusively found in Central and South America, but human alteration of the environment has caused the birds to expand their range to include parts of the United States. Their current range in the United States is north to eastern Oregon, with individuals sighted as far north as Canada, south to northwest Peru, and northwest Venezuela in the south; the grackle's range has been expanding north and west in recent years. It is common in Texas and Arizona in the southern regions and as far east as Western Arkansas.

Great-tailed and Boat-tailed species are primarily resident in their ranges, but have been undergoing dramatic
range expansion northward during the twentieth century. Populations of Boat-tailed and Great-tailed grackles in northern, recently-colonized areas, move southward during winter months.  This animated chart shows this northern movement over the last 100 years:

Our biggest grackle; this big, brash blackbird, the male Great-tailed Grackle shimmers in iridescent black and purple, and trails a tail that will make you look twice. The rich brown females are about half the male’s size. Flocks of these long-legged, social birds strut and hop on suburban lawns, golf courses, fields, and marshes in Texas, the Southwest, and southern Great Plains. In the evening, raucous flocks pack neighborhood trees, filling the sky with their amazing (some might say ear-splitting) voices.

This huge blackbird is hard to ignore due to its boisterous nature.  Long, deeply keeled tail; large, thick bill, with nearly straight culmen; flat crown, shallow forehead and the adult male is entirely black with obvious violet-blue iridescence. Eyes yellow; bill and legs black. Adult female: smaller than male and doesn’t have the keeled tail. She is brown above with dull iridescence on wings and tail; buffy on head and below, becoming darker brown on belly and vent; eyes are yellow and the dark lateral throat stripes usually obvious. Immature male: smaller than the adult male, with shorter tail, dull iridescence, browner wings, and frequently dark eyes. Juvenile: like female, but paler and shows diffuse streaking below.
 Great-tailed Grackles - females

Eight great-tailed grackle subspecies are recognized, but only 3 are found in North America. These northern subspecies are prosopidicola, found in the east of the great-tailed's range west to central Texas; monsoni, found from central Arizona east to western Texas; and nelsoni, found in California and western Arizona. All 3 subspecies of the great-tailed are spreading northward in the United States. For the most part, there is little information regarding which subspecies have spread to which areas; therefore the range descriptions given above are tentative. And some intergradation may be occurring now that these subspecies are coming widely into contact.
  • Bright yellow eyes
  • Iridescent black body, usually more blue-purple
  • Larger, longer tail; held in deep ‘V’ during display flights
  • Very large, long bill; nearly as long as head

Size & Shape

The Great-Tailed Grackle has a disproportionately
 small, slightly rounded head on a neck that’s thin in relation to its large body.  Males are long-legged, slender blackbirds with a somewhat flat-headed profile and stout, straight bills. The male’s tapered tail is nearly as long as its body and folds into a distinctive V or keel shape. Females are about half the size of males with long, slender tails.  
  • Length: 18.1 in
  • Wingspan: 22.8 in
  • Weight: 6.7 oz
  • Length: 15 in
  • Wingspan: 18.9 in
  • Weight: 3.7 oz
Relative Size 
  • Exceptionally long-tailed and large songbird. Much smaller by weight than an American Crow, but about the same length.

Color Pattern

  • Male Great-tailed Grackles are iridescent black with piercing yellow eyes, and black bills and legs. 
  • Females are dark brown above, paler below, with a buff-colored throat and stripe above the eye. 
  • Juveniles have the female’s dark brown plumage, with streaked under parts and a dark eye.
Great-tailed Grackles eat mostly various invertebrates, sometimes small fishes, frogs, tadpoles, snails, crayfish, lizards, small snakes, bird eggs and nestlings, also grain; forages on ground, mud flats, and in shallow water. It eats berries and larger fruits, newly planted and ripening grain, waste grain, seeds, fruits, berries, and nuts and larvae extracted from ground, ticks removed from cattle, various invertebrates and small vertebrates, carrion, offal; in fact these birds will forage nearly anywhere, from the ground, in shrubs and trees, and even by wading in shallow water.  However, the majority of foraging is done on the ground.

Favored habitat includes partly open situations with scattered trees, cultivated lands, pastures, shores of watercourses, swamps, wet thickets, around human habitation, sometimes in marshes. Often roosts in village shade trees or urban parks. South America: common locally in mangroves and along shorelines and on lawns and in parks in towns and. Nests in trees, bushes, man-made structures, mostly near or over water; marsh vegetation where no trees or bushes are available near water. Sometimes nests in heron colony.

Short, but sweet little clip

Cool Facts

  • In winter, enormous flocks of both male and female Great-tailed Grackles gather in “roost trees.” These winter roosts can contain thousands of individuals, with flocks of up to half a million occurring in sugarcane fields in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley.
  • In 1900 the northern edge of the Great-tailed Grackle’s range barely reached southern Texas. Since the 1960s they’ve followed the spread of irrigated agriculture and urban development into the Great Plains and West, and today are one of North America’s fastest-expanding species.
  • The Great-tailed and Boat-tailed grackles have at times been considered the same species. Current thinking is that they are closely related, but different species.  They do hybridize.
  • Because they’re smaller and require less food, female Great-tailed Grackle chicks are more likely than their brothers to survive to fledgling. Likewise, adult females may outlive males, resulting in a “sex-biased” population with greater numbers of females than males.
  • Although you’ll usually see them feeding on land, Great-tailed Grackles may also wade into the water to grab a frog or fish.
  • Great-tailed Grackles—especially females—learn to recognize individual researchers working in their breeding colonies, and will react with a chut alarm call when they see the researcher, even away from the nesting site.
According to, an unusual trick for a blackbird, the Great-tailed Grackle can plunge-dive to catch small fish in the same way terns are commonly seen foraging.

A fine little slideshow of several many photos of
the life of a Boat-tailed Grackle


  • Low chut; males may give a louder clack.  This bird has a large variety of raucous, cacophonous calls.   
  • Song is a strange mix of slurred whistles and electrical static-type sounds, usually ending in a staccato, mechanical rattle; call is a soft tchut.  The male Great-tailed Grackle's horribly loud "song" is a series of harsh rattles, squeaks like that of styrofoam rubbing together, whistles, sounds like the tuning of an old radio, and gravelly "Check!" calls.  You can hear three here: 
  • Wikipedia
  • Cornell’s All About Birds
  • The Crossley Guide – Eastern Birds
  • Kaufman Focus Guide – Birds of North America
  • Smithsonian Field Guide to Birds of North America
  • Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America
  • Wikipedia
  • YouTube

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My Best Yard Bird?

Visitors today asked me, "What is the best or favorite bird you've had visit your yard?" Interesting question...that I couldn't answer. After pondering my yard's Total List I came up with a few contenders:
  • American Kestrel - having lunch amongst the peonies.
  • Black Phoebe, maybe. I love Black Phoebes.
  • Chihuahan Raven, because I like big corvids.
  • Western Meadowlark - A splash of yellow on the snow covered grass - sweet.
  • Gray Catbird - because I heard it so many times before spotting it!
  • Western Tanager - yellow and red...what's not to like
  • Hermit Thrush come every 'em.
  • Indigo Bunting - so BLUE
  • Belted Kingfisher - I built a fish-pond for 'em.
  • Harris's Sparrow - everybody was seeing them that year.
  • American Redstart - flicking wings & tail, pugnacious little fellow.
  • Turkey Vultures - roosting in my trees!
  • Lewis's Woodpecker - spent a winter visiting my feeders here, once.
  • Calliope Hummingbirds - all hummingbirds actually, 100's at a time!
  • Northern Shrike - dining al fresco...stunning.

So, you can see I can't just pick one. Perhaps if I absolutely HAD to pick the most exciting experience with birds in my yard, it would be the time the young scientist was here with mist nets; sampling, measuring and banding Evening Grosbeaks. He had one he had caught that he was keeping for a few weeks in a cage as a decoy. He watched his caged pal intently, never keeping him out in the sun for long. He regularly moved the caged bird over next to us, sitting in the shade while we waited to catch birds, or where he made his notes on birds he'd caught.

Suddenly, we were shocked to see a Cooper's Hawk swoop down, from over the roof of my house and attack the cage that was sitting on the ground, between us, right at our feet! The poor grosbeak nearly had a heart fact, we nearly did. We stood up, the hawk moved to the top of the cage and kept trying for the bird inside! He kicked at the hawk, who moved again; trying desperately to get the little bird. Finally, making enough noise and practically physically grabbing the big bird...he finally gave up. Talk about exciting! For a few minutes, we imagined the hawk was going to just pick up the (large) cage and just fly off with it. It's wings nearly wrapped around the entire front of the cage; the darn thing wanted in! Thankfully, the little Evening Grosbeak was just fine and was released later that season.

That was probably my most exciting experience birding my backyard. Leave your experience too, if you like. I like to hear from my readers!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Common Grackle - Quiscalus quiscula

Common Grackles, or Crow Blackbirds as they are sometimes called, are blackbirds that look like they've been slightly stretched. They very common almost everywhere east of the Rockies Longer than most blackbirds, slimmer than most crows, Common Grackle males are very iridescent and have long tails with a distinct crease down the center. Generally, their heads, necks and breasts are glossy purplish-blue or bluish-green. However, common grackles in different parts of North America have somewhat different colored plumage.

In New England and in the West, the subspecies has a brassy bronze body coloration. Often called the Bronzed Grackle: it has a black head with blue-green iridescence. Sharply defined bronze back. Long, black tail with purplish iridescence. Called the Purple Grackle, this one has a black head, back, and sides with purple iridescence. May have iridescent barring on the back. Long, black tail with possible blue-green iridescence. Tail displays a longitudinal ridge or keel when in flight. Pale yellow eyes, though not always. Found from central Louisiana and Alabama north to southern New York and Connecticut, west of the Appalachian Mountains and in New England. East of the Allegheny Mountains, the body is purple, and in the southeast the feathers have a greenish hue.

Females are not as iridescent or as colorful, and their tails are not as distinctive, nor do they keel their tails much.
The iridescence of the head is different from that of the body, and changes abruptly behind the neck and breast; this applies to all forms of common grackle. The central feathers of the long, rounded tail are often depressed, so that the tail is displayed in flight with a deeply keeled V-shape, especially with breeding males in flight. Common Grackles taller, with long, strong legs and longer tailed than a typical blackbird, with a longer, and more tapered bill; bill and legs are black.

Grackles walk around lawns and fields on their long legs or gather in noisy groups high in trees, typically evergreens. They eat many crops (notably corn) and nearly anything else as well, including garbage. In flight their long tails trail behind them, sometimes folded down the middle into a shallow V shape, especially during breeding time. The adult female, beyond being smaller, is usually less iridescent; her tail in particular is shorter, and unlike the males, does not keel in flight. The juvenile is brown with dark brown eyes and faintly streaked on breast. These are one of the earliest passerine migrants in spring.

Common Grackles are large, lanky blackbirds with long legs and long tails. The head is flat and the bill is longer than in most blackbirds, with the hint of a downward curve. In flight, the wings appear short in comparison to the tail. Males are slightly larger than females.

Sized for Both Sexes:
  • Length: 11–13.4 inches
  • Wingspan: 14.2–18.1 inches
  • Weight: 2.6–5 ounces
  • Relative Size: Larger than a Red-winged Blackbird; about the same size as a Mourning Dove, though its long tail makes it appear larger.
Color Pattern
Common Grackles appear black from a distance, but up close their glossy purple heads contrast with bronzy-iridescent bodies. A bright golden eye gives grackles an intent expression. Females are slightly less glossy than males. Young birds are dark brown with a dark eye. As you know, there are many Leucistic birds; this is a Leucistic Common Grackle, below. Click the tag 'Leucistic' (at the end of this article) for more information.

Their diet consists of a wide variety of animal and vegetable food, including insects and invertebrates but also insects, crustaceans, earthworms, frogs, and small rodents and occasional eggs and nestlings. In rare instances, Common Grackles will attack and eat small birds and lizards, and in coastal areas they forage at the tide line for small invertebrates, even wading into the water to capture live fish. During the winter and migration months, their diet shifts to plant food, such as seeds and waste grain. Because of their predilection for agricultural grain and seeds, especially corn, Common Grackles have earned a reputation as a significant pest in certain areas of North America. The omnivorous grackles feed in farm fields, pastures, and suburban lawns by walking, rather than hopping, and they act aggressively toward, even stealing food from, other ground-foraging birds such as robins.
Sharp-shinned Hawks, Great Horned Owls and Red-tailed Eagles are predators of Grackles, not to forget predators of all birds; cats and dogs, skunks, raccoons, snakes and people.


The Lone Pine Field Guide to Birds describes the Common Grackle as a "poor but spirited singer who, despite his lack of musical talent, remains smug and proud, posing with his bill held high". Their call is a loud chuck, while their song is short creaky koguba-leek. Call: a loud and deep chuck. Song: a mechanical, squeaky readle-eak. Variety of whistles, clucks, and hissing notes. Both sexes sing.

Cool Facts

  • Those raggedy figures out in cornfields may be called scare-crows, but grackles are the #1 threat to corn. They eat ripening corn as well as corn sprouts, and their habit of foraging in big flocks means they have a multimillion dollar impact. Some people have tried to reduce their effects by spraying a foul-tasting chemical on corn sprouts or by culling grackles at
    their roosts.
  • Common Grackles are resourceful foragers. They sometimes follow plows to catch invertebrates and mice, wade into water to catch small fish, pick leeches off the legs of turtles, steal worms from American Robins, raid nests, and kill and eat
    adult birds.
  • Grackles have a hard keel on the inside of the upper mandible that they use for sawing open acorns. Typically they score the outside of the narrow end, then bite the acorn open.
  • You might see a Common Grackle hunched over on the ground, wings spread, letting ants crawl over its body and feathers. This is called ‘anting’, and grackles are frequent practitioners among the many bird species that do it. The ants secrete formic acid, the chemical in their stings, and this may rid the bird of parasites. In addition to ants, grackles have been seen using walnut juice, lemons and limes, marigold blossoms, chokecherries and mothballs in a similar fashion.
  • In winter, Common Grackles forage and roost in large communal flocks with several different species of blackbird. Sometimes these flocks can number in the millions of individuals.
  • Rarely, Common Grackles nest in places other than their usual treetops, including birdhouses, old woodpecker holes, barns, and in still-occupied nests of Osprey and Great Blue Heron.
  • The oldest recorded Common Grackle was 22 years 11 months old.
The Common Grackle builds nests of twigs, grass, hay, sometimes cemented with mud lined with fine grass between six and sixty feet high on branches preferably in coniferous trees, although not picky and sometimes in tree hollows and abandoned cavities, often near or over water. Sometimes they nest in numbers in the same tree for safety and sometimes even nest in a small opening in the lower parts of an Osprey's nest of sticks.

  • One smart Grackle!

    Watch this one problem solve.

    Where are Common Grackles found and how are they moving?

(Darker red showsa greater concentration of these birds.)
  • Sources:
    • Wikipedia
    • Cornell’s All About Birds
    • The Crossley Guide – Eastern Birds
    • Kaufman Focus Guide – Birds of North America
    • Smithsonian Field Guide to Birds of North America
    • Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America
    • Wikipedia
    • YouTube

Saturday, April 7, 2012


Grackle is the common name of any of eleven (usually) black passerine birds native to North and South America. All are members of the Icterid family but belong to multiple genera. The members of the Genus Quiscalus found in the North America; three in Colorado and one, the Boat-tailed Grackle, is found usually only along the coasts of southeastern Texas to Florida, around and more than half-way up the Atlantic East coast. It is found in coastal saltwater marshes, and, in Florida, also on inland waters. In that all grackles seem to be moving northward, it is no longer extraordinarily rare to find the Boat-tailed Grackle also in Colorado. These three grackles are:
  • Boat-tailed Grackle, Quiscalus major
  • Common Grackle, Quiscalus quiscula
  • Great-tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
The Icterids are a group of small to medium-sized, often colorful passerine birds restricted to the New World. Most species have black as a predominant plumage color, often enlivened by yellow, orange or red. This group includes the New World blackbirds, New World orioles, the Bobolink, meadowlarks, grackles, and cowbirds. A passerine is a bird of the order Passeriformes, which includes more than half of all bird species. Sometimes known as perching birds or, less accurately, as songbirds

The best way to separate Common Grackles from blackbirds and cowbirds is by size and shape: Common Grackles are larger, lankier, longer tailed, and longer billed. Common Grackles have a widened tail, often held in a V-shape, even in flight. Great-tailed Grackles of the Southwest and south Texas, and Boat-tailed Grackles of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, are even larger, and the males have much larger and more deeply keeled tails. The Great-tailed Grackle is the largest of our grackles, by several inches; while lighter in body-weight, they are about the same length as an American Crow.

Boat-tailed Grackles overlap with Great-tailed Grackles only in coastal Texas and Louisiana. They live mainly in coastal salt marshes, rarely moving inland (except in Florida where they are widespread across the peninsula). Boat-tailed Grackles, only slightly larger than the Common Grackle, have a much more rounded head, whereas Great-tailed Grackles have a sloping, flat crown.

Grackles tend to congregate in large groups, such a group is called: a plague of grackles.

A Plague of Grackes; likely with other black birds
like starlings and Red-Winged Blackbirds.

I like these big guys; probably because I don't get anywhere near that many! I should be thankful I've never had many more than about 100 mixed 'black birds' in my yard at a single time! But because I am intrigued by these Grackles (and used to confuse Great-tailed with the much smaller Boat-tailed Grackles), I intend to follow this post with a 3-part piece on the Grackles I might actually see here in Colorado. I hope you enjoy...and leave a comment; I love 'em. Again, if you click a label you'll find other postings & photos of a similar nature.


  • Wikipedia
  • Cornell’s All About Birds
  • The Crossley Guide – Eastern Birds
  • Kaufman Focus Guide – Birds of North America
  • Smithsonian Field Guide to Birds of North America
  • Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America


  • Wikipedia
  • YouTube