Common Grackle

Quiscalus quiscula
Family

Icteridae (blackbirds) in the order Passeriformes

Description

Glossy, iridescent blackbirds with elongated bodies and long legs and tail. Adult upperparts are dark bronzy purple, with an iridescent blue-green head and a bright yellow eye. The bill is long and slightly curved. The tail is long and curled upwards on the edges during the breeding season; males often fly with the tail held in a shallow V. Underparts are similar to upperparts. Females are similar, but duller and browner with a short, straight tail. Song is a harsh gurgling squeak: “kree del eeeek.” Call is a harsh “chlack.”

Size

Length: 12½ inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).

Common Grackle

Common grackle on a table. It has an irridescent blue head and bright yellow eye.
Common Grackle in Macon, MO
Habitat and conservation

Commonly seen in urban and rural areas, parks, farm lots, pastures, lawns, and lakeshores. Populations are strong continent-wide, though at 73 million birds they are no where near their historic peak of 191 million. Unlike the European starling, which is a nonnative invasive species, the common grackle is native to our continent and is a component of our nation’s natural inheritance.

Foods

Common grackles forage on the ground for a variety of seeds, insects, aquatic animals, and even small mammals. Animal foods such as grubs are sought especially during nesting season, for the protein they provide the growing young. Grackles are infamous corn and rice eaters, though they also help farmers by eating insect pests.

image of Common Grackle distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Common summer and winter resident; uncommon in northern Missouri during winter.

Life cycle

The creaky calling, purposeful strutting, and courtship displays of grackles are common signs of spring. Bulky nests are usually built in evergreens or other bushy trees and are constructed of twigs, grasses, and other materials, reinforced with mud. Clutches comprise 1-7 eggs, which hatch in 11-15 days. At first, the young make cheeping sounds, but their demanding voices become louder and creakier as they grow. They fledge in 10-17 days, then follow their parents as they forage on the ground.

Human connections

It is believed that common grackle numbers jumped dramatically as American settlers converted the continent’s forests into cropland; our activities have expanded its habitat. Grackles eat corn in nearly all stages of the crop’s development, and farmers consider them pests.

Ecosystem connections

When grackles raid another bird’s nest, snap up grasshoppers, pick grubs from the soil, or pluck leeches from a turtle’s leg, they are predators. When they eat berries, they distribute seeds. The native seeds they ate before European settlement used to cover America’s once-vast grasslands.