Living Bird Magazine
Boat-tailed GrackleQuiscalus major
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Icteridae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Zanate Marismeño (Spanish)
- Quiscale des marais (French)
Boat-tailed Grackles eat sunflower seeds, sorghum, millet, corn, and other bird seeds from feeders, particularly platform feeders.
- Cool Facts
- 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, called “harem defense polygyny,” that has much in common with deer and other big game. Females cluster their nests in a small area safe from predators, and males compete to see which one gets to defend and mate with the entire colony. But it’s not as simple as it may seem: though a colony’s dominant male mates far more often with the females, DNA fingerprinting shows that only about a quarter of the young are actually his. The remainder are fathered by males who the females mate with while away from the colony.
- The Boat-tailed Grackle was formally described in 1819 by the French ornithologist Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot, from a specimen collected in New Orleans, Louisiana.
- The oldest Boat-tailed Grackle on record was a female, and at least 13 year, 1 months, when she was recaught and released by a South Carolina bird bander in 2003.