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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Great-tailed Grackle

Quiscalus mexicanus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: ICTERIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A 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.

Birds of North America Online
ML Essential Set

Keys to identification Help

Blackbirds
Blackbirds
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Male Great-tailed Grackles are long-legged, slender blackbirds with a 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.

  • 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 underparts and a dark eye.

  • Behavior

    You’ll often see Great-tailed Grackles with other blackbirds pecking for food on lawns, fields, and at marsh edges, vying for trash in urban settings, or crowding in trees and on telephone lines in noisy roosts.

  • Habitat

    Look for Great-tailed Grackles in rural and developed areas of the Midwest and West, foraging in agricultural fields and feedlots, and in suburbs including golf courses, cemeteries, parks, and neighborhood lawns. Large trees and vegetation edging marshes, lakes, and lagoons provide roosting and breeding sites.

Range Map Help

Great-tailed Grackle Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male

    Great-tailed Grackle

    Adult male
    • Large and lanky blackbird
    • Very long, wedge-shaped tail, often folded when resting
    • Long, pointed black bill
    • Glossy violet-black overall with glowing pale yellow eyes
    • © Ned Harris, Tucson, Arizona, April 2010
  • Adult female

    Great-tailed Grackle

    Adult female
    • Large and lanky blackbird
    • Stout, pointed black bill
    • Dark above, warmer olive-brown below
    • Pale stripe above glowing, pale-yellow eye
    • © Joan Gellatly, Tucson, Arizona, April 2010
  • Adult male

    Great-tailed Grackle

    Adult male
    • Large and lanky blackbird
    • Very long, wedge-shaped tail, often folded
    • Glossy blue-black overall with glowing pale yellow eyes
    • Stout, pointed black bill
    • © Kaustubh Deshpande, Dallas, Texas, May 2009
  • Adult female

    Great-tailed Grackle

    Adult female
    • Large, lanky blackbird
    • Dark above, warmer olive-brown below and on head
    • Thick, pointed black bill
    • Glowing, pale yellow eye
    • © Joan Gellatly, Tucson, Arizona, May 2009
  • Adult male

    Great-tailed Grackle

    Adult male
    • Large and lanky
    • Very long wedge-shaped tail, often folded
    • Glossy blue-black overall
    • Glowing yellow eyes
    • © Kaustubh Deshpande, Dallas, Texas, May 2009
  • Adult male displaying

    Great-tailed Grackle

    Adult male displaying
    • Large and lanky
    • Very long tail, often fanned open during display
    • Glossy violet-black body
    • Stout, pointed black bill
    • © Mark Summers, Farmington, Utah, May 2011
  • Adult male

    Great-tailed Grackle

    Adult male
    • Large, lanky blackbird
    • Very long, wedge-shaped tail often folded together when on ground
    • Glossy violet-black overall
    • Glowing pale yellow eye
    • © Darin Ziegler, Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 2009
  • Adult female

    Great-tailed Grackle

    Adult female
    • Large and lanky
    • Dark brownish gray above, warmer tan below
    • Pale stripe above glowing pale yellow eye
    • Thick, sharply-pointed bill
    • © Darin Ziegler, Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 2009
  • Adult female

    Great-tailed Grackle

    Adult female
    • Dark brown above, warmer olive-brown below
    • Pale stripe above glowing pale yellow eye
    • Thick, pointed black bill
    • © Brian L. Sullivan, Monterey, California, March 2007
  • Adult male

    Great-tailed Grackle

    Adult male
    • Large and lanky blackbird
    • Glossy violet-black overall
    • Very long, wedge-shaped tail, often folded together when perched
    • © Brian L. Sullivan, Victoria, Texas, April 2011
  • Immature

    Great-tailed Grackle

    Immature
    • Similar to adult female, but with dark eyes
    • Darker brown above, warmer olive-tan below
    • Thick, pointed black bill
    • © Brian L. Sullivan, Catavina, Baja California, Mexico

Similar Species

  • Adult male

    Common Grackle

    Adult male
    • Similar to Great-tailed Grackle but smaller and stockier
    • Shorter tail
    • Glossy violet/blue confined to head with green, olive and bronze tones on body
    • © The Nature Nook , New Hampshire, May 2008
  • Adult female

    Common Grackle

    Adult female
    • Similar to Great-tailed Grackle but smaller and chunkier
    • Shorter tail
    • Females show dark blue/black head and olive or bronze body
    • © Tom Smith , Bernardsville, New Jersey, December 2007
  • Adult male (Gulf Coast)

    Boat-tailed Grackle

    Adult male (Gulf Coast)
    • Similar to Great-tailed Grackle but with shorter tail and more rounded head
    • Bill more slender than that of Great-tailed Grackle
    • Florida/Gulf Coast population shows dark brown eyes
    • Northern coastal population has glowing yellow eyes, but does not overlap with range of Great-tailed
    • © catmca, Eau Gallie, Florida, January 2009
  • Adult male (Atlantic)

    Boat-tailed Grackle

    Adult male (Atlantic)
    • Similar to Great-tailed Grackle but smaller, with shorter tail
    • Head more rounded than Great-tailed
    • Northern Atlantic population shows pale eyed, but range does not overlap with Great-tailed
    • © Byard Miller, Alabama, November 2007
  • Adult male

    Brewer's Blackbird

    Adult male
    • Much smaller and stockier than Great-tailed Grackle
    • Short, squared-off tail
    • Thin, pointed bill
    • Glossy green body, more blue/purple on head and breast
    • © kewzoo, Berkeley, California, March 2010
  • Adult male

    Bronzed Cowbird

    Adult male
    • Much smaller and stockier than Great-tailed Grackle
    • Bulging neck
    • Red eye
    • Short, thick bill
    • © Joan Gellatly, Tucson, Arizona, April 2011

Similar Species

Boat-tailed Grackles overlap with Great-tailed Grackles only in coastal Texas and Louisiana. They live mainly in coastal saltmarshes, rarely moving inland (except in Florida where they are widespread across the peninsula). Boat-tailed Grackles have a much more rounded head, whereas Great-tailed Grackles have a sloping, flat crown. Females are best told apart by eye color: Great-tailed has yellow eyes; Boat-tailed has dark eyes. But beware of juvenile Great-tailed Grackles; their eyes change from amber to yellowish over the course of the first fall and winter. Common Grackles are substantially smaller, with shorter, flatter tails than Great-tailed Grackles, and the females look the same as the males. You may find Bronzed Cowbirds and Brewer’s Blackbirds mixed in with flocks of Great-tailed Grackles, but these are much smaller blackbirds with more compact proportions and shorter tails.

Backyard Tips

Great-tailed Grackles will take seed spread beneath feeders, often chasing off smaller birds. Cracked corn and milo are particular favorites.

Find This Bird

Great-tailed Grackles can be found in open habitats with water nearby throughout the Midwest and West including farmland and city parks. Look for them in mixed flocks foraging on pastures and lawns—their long legs and massive tails distinguish them from other blackbirds and Common Grackles.