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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Boat-tailed Grackle

Quiscalus major ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: ICTERIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

When you smell saltwater on the East Coast, it’s time to look out for Boat-tailed Grackles. The glossy blue-black males are hard to miss as they haul their ridiculously long tails around or display from marsh grasses or telephone wires. The rich, dark-brown females are half the size of males and look almost like a different species. Boat-tailed Grackles take advantage of human activity along our increasingly developed coast, scavenging trash and hanging out in busy urban areas away from predators.

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Keys to identification Help

Blackbirds
Blackbirds
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Boat-tailed Grackles are large, lanky songbirds with rounded crowns, long legs, and fairly long, pointed bills. Males have very long tails that make up almost half their body length and that they typically hold folded in a V-shape, like the keel of a boat.

  • Color Pattern

    Males are glossy black all over. Females are dark brown above and russet below, with a subtle face pattern made up of a pale eyebrow, dark cheek, and pale “mustache” stripe. Eye color ranges from dull brown along the western Gulf Coast to bright yellow along the Atlantic Coast.

  • Behavior

    These scrappy blackbirds are supreme omnivores, feeding on everything from seeds and human food scraps to crustaceans scavenged from the shoreline. .

  • Habitat

    Boat-tailed Grackles are a strictly coastal species through most of their range; however, they live across much of the Florida peninsula, often well away from the immediate coast.

Range Map Help

Boat-tailed Grackle Range Map
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Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male

    Boat-tailed Grackle

    Adult male
    • Large, dark, slender blackbird
    • Iridescent purple sheen on body
    • Long, wedge-shaped tail often folded up
    • Gulf Coast/Florida birds show dark eyes
    • © Ken Schneider, Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Florida, March 2010
  • Adult female

    Boat-tailed Grackle

    Adult female
    • Large and lanky with stout, black bill
    • Dark gray upperparts and wings
    • Tawny/rufous head and breast
    • Mid-Atlantic population shows dark eyes
    • © Jon Corcoran, Outer Banks, North Carolina, January 2010
  • Adult male

    Boat-tailed Grackle

    Adult male
    • Large, slender-bodied blackbird
    • Dark overall with a glossy purple/green sheen on the body
    • Long, wedge-shaped tail often folded up while perched
    • Mid-Atlantic population shows glowing yellow eyes
    • © Brian Kushner, Dutch Neck Crossroads, Delaware, October 2012
  • Adult female

    Boat-tailed Grackle

    Adult female
    • Large, lanky blackbird
    • Heavy, pointed black bill
    • Rich, tawny brown head and breast with paler throat
    • Florida/Gulf Coast birds show pale, glowing eyes
    • © tsiya, St. Augustine, Florida, February 2009
  • Adult male

    Boat-tailed Grackle

    Adult male
    • Large and lanky with heavy black bill
    • Dark, glossy teal/purple overall
    • Long, wedge-shaped tail
    • Gulf Coast/Florida population shows dark eyes
    • © catmca, Eau Gallie, Florida, January 2009
  • Female

    Boat-tailed Grackle

    Female
    • Large, lanky blackbird
    • Thick, dark bill
    • Tawny/rufous underparts
    • Darker, duller gray/olive upperparts
    • © Joe Pescatore, Lavallette, New Jersey, September 2012
  • Male

    Boat-tailed Grackle

    Male
    • Large, lanky, glossy purple blackbird
    • Mid-Atlantic birds show glowing yellow eyes
    • Long, wedge-shaped tail
    • © Jeff Loomis, Assateague, Maryland, October 2011

Similar Species

  • Adult male

    Common Grackle

    Adult male
    • Smaller, stockier and more compact than Boat-tailed Grackle
    • Shorter, more slender bill
    • Bronzy/olive sheen on body, with glossy blue/purple limited to head and chest
    • Shorter tail
    • © Mary Fran, April 2009
  • Adult male

    Great-tailed Grackle

    Adult male
    • Very similar to Boat-tailed Grackle
    • In small area of range overlap on Gulf Coast, Boat-tailed shows dark eyes
    • Blockier, less rounded head than Boat-tailed
    • More likely to be found inland
    • © Kaustubh Deshpande , Dallas , Texas, May 2009

Similar Species

Great-tailed Grackles are very similar to Boat-tailed Grackles, but the two species overlap only along the western Gulf Coast. Where the two species overlap, Boat-tailed Grackles have dark eyes and Great-tailed Grackles have pale yellow eyes. Habitat is also helpful: Great-tailed Grackles are much more likely to be seen away from coasts, and they are now found across much of the inland West. Common Grackles are smaller with slimmer bills and shorter tails than Boat-tailed Grackles. Young Common Grackles are brownish, like female Boat-tailed Grackles, but tend to be more uniformly dark brown, without the female Boat-tailed’s subtle face pattern. Fish Crows are heavier and have larger bodies, thicker bills, and much shorter tails than Boat-tailed Grackles.

Regional Differences

Along the western Gulf Coast, Boat-tailed Grackles have dull, brownish eyes. Along the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf Coast west to Mississippi, Boat-tailed Grackles have bright yellow eyes.

Backyard Tips

Boat-tailed Grackles eat sunflower seeds, sorghum, millet, corn, and other bird seeds from feeders, particularly platform feeders.

Find This Bird

To see Boat-tailed Grackles, head to the southeastern or Gulf Coast and look for long-tailed black birds around marsh edges, boat launches, and parks. They often walk around boldly on long legs with their tails cocked up, searching for food. It is also common to see Boat-tailed Grackles perched on roadside utility wires. If you still can’t find one, head to a fast food restaurant in a beach town and scout around for discarded French fries—you’re almost sure to find grackles there.