19 Facts About Grackles | Starlings Vs Grackles Vs Blackbirds
Grackles are also known as Crow-blackbirds and are common summer birds that belong to the Icteridae family.
They are generally native to North and South America consisting of 11 species out of which 3 species, namely the Common Grackles, the Great-tailed Grackles, and the Boat-tailed Grackles, are mostly found in the United States.
These bird species are extremely well-known for their harsh and creaking songs that they usually sing from the treetops and people, especially farmers, are seldom annoyed by them, labeling them as villains because of their tendency to attack in flocks and ruin the cornfields.
Grackles commonly have a long dark bill, yellow eyes, long tail, and an iridescent appearance on their heads in males. Although hated by many, this has to be admitted that Grackles exhibit some great and interesting characteristic behaviors that are worth appreciation.
Let’s explore and discover the various aspects of a Grackle’s life, its lifespan, livelihood, distinctive features, foraging habits, and differences with that of Starlings and Blackbirds.
19 Interesting Facts About Grackles
In this article, 19 most important facts about Grackles are presented by taking into account the questions relating to the lives and lifespan of Grackles, their eating habits, natural appearance and behaviors, nests, and characteristics.
The comparison of Grackles with that of Starlings and Blackbirds portrays some fascinating facts about Grackles.
1. How Long Do Grackles Live?
Grackles normally have a pretty long lifespan, that is a maximum of 22 years in the wild. However, this is not commonly recorded and is usually rarely seen. The lifespan of Grackles is about 17 years on average.
The oldest Common Grackle that was recorded was a male of about 23 years of age at the time when he was killed by a raptor of Minnesota.
These however happen on rare occasions and Grackles seldom have such a long lifetime. Even an average lifespan of about 17 years is rarely heard of amongst other pest bird species in North America.
2. What Do Grackles Eat?
Grackles are opportunistic foragers with an omnivorous diet, which means they take advantage of whatever they can find in their surroundings to feed upon and survive. They usually feed on insects and other invertebrates during their breeding season.
Their dietary preferences include grasshoppers, caterpillars, frogs, earthworms, spiders, small rodents and birds, grains, seeds, and even garbage.
What Do Grackles Eat in Winter?
Vegetable matter forms an integral part of Grackle’s diet, particularly in Winters. During Migration and winters, Grackles tend to primarily feed on fruits, berries, grains and seeds from farm fields, especially corn and acorns.
3. When Do Grackles Nest?
Grackles usually prefer to initiate their nest-building task in spring months (March-July), once their breeding season arrives and when they have formed a breeding pair.
They live in that nest till their young ones are capable of surviving alone. The male Grackles, however, often abandon their nest earlier during the incubation period, thus leaving the females to raise the chicks alone.
Where do Grackles Nest?
The Grackle Nests are generally chosen by the female Grackles and are primarily built-in coniferous trees, however, on some rare occasions they can also be found in holes of trees (like a woodpecker nest), under the eaves of barns, and on rafters.
They generally tend to build their nests near water and/or around agricultural fields.
How Long is Grackles Nesting Period?
The female Grackle generally lays 4-7 eggs on average and incubates them for about 12-14 days. In this period, some male Grackles leave their nest and do not help the females in raising the chicks.
The chicks leave their nests after about 12-17 days of their hatching and stay near them for the next 1-2 days. Some Grackles might return to their nests for the next breeding season.
4. What Eats Grackles?
The predators of Grackles usually include Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Northern Harriers, Great Horned Owls, and Short-Eared Owls.
Some smaller creatures such as Cats, Squirrels, Snakes, Raccoons, and Chipmunks are mostly known to eat the eggs and the young babies of Grackles.
Also, a large Grackle population is affected by human involvement. Humans generally tend to kill Grackles in order to control their population growth, especially in places where they destroy crops on a large scale.
5. Why are Grackles called Devil Birds?
Many people often call Grackles as ‘Devil Birds’ because of their tendency to hang out in large groups or flocks, their creaking voice and harsh singing, and their destruction of crop fields especially cornfields.
People generally hate Grackles because of their habit of being in large groups and singing their creaking songs. Many people even prefer to call these groups “annoyances” or “plagues” sometimes.
The large flocks of Grackles are usually impossible to be handled by people. The screaming of these birds on a large scale naturally becomes a nuisance to many.
Moreover, their tendency to destroy cornfields in order to include corn in their diet generally results in huge losses of farmers.
6. Where Do Grackles Live?
Grackles are generally well-accustomed to living around agricultural fields, city parks, feedlots, and suburban lawns. They are also known to be living in wet and open habitats, such as woodland, forest edges, marshes, and meadows.
On very rare occasions, Grackles are seen to nest in places other than their usual treetops, which generally include birdhouses, abandoned woodpecker holes, barns, and in the nests of Osprey and Great Blue Heron.
Grackles are highly social birds and therefore they tend to forage and roost together in large numbers during winters.
Sometimes, these flocks can even number upto a million individual Grackles! Grackles generally migrate from Northern parts to the Southern parts of North America during the Winters.
7. When do Grackles learn to Fly?
Grackles usually learn to fly during their nesting period of 12-17 days after they hatch.
The baby Grackles generally leave their nests after a period of about 12-15 days after they are being hatched. The chicks stay near their nest for another 1-2 days and finally leave the nest once they’re totally capable of surviving alone in the wild.
Generally, Grackles learn to fly effectively within these few days and therefore once they leave their nest they become capable of living and surviving alone in the wild without the help of their parents.
8. Where Do Grackles Live in Winter?
Grackles generally tend to form large flocks (sometimes even numbering as many as one million individuals!) and migrate short distances towards the South to spend the winters.
During their breeding and summer seasons, Grackles are found across North America primarily in the east of the Rocky Mountains.
However, as the winter descends, Grackles come together to withdraw themselves from the northern and northwestern ranges and carry out the journey of partial migration towards the southeastern parts.
Their journey is considered partial migration since they move relatively short distances between their breeding and winter habitats. However, many of the Grackles choose not to leave their arenas even in the winters and they usually resort to bravely confront the cold weather.
9. How Smart are Grackles?
Apparently, Grackles are quite smart and it has been recently researched that their behavioral flexibility is one of their own traits that makes them unique.
The research of Corina Logan, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge, has shown that the Great-tailed Grackles are intelligent and smart enough to utilize their flexible behaviors to attain certain goals of their own.
Although their flexibility and adaptability can serve various purposes, they are usually not innovative in their behaviors.
10. When do Grackles Turn Black?
Grackles usually turn blackish in color at the time when they are totally grown up and have reached their adulthood.
Common Grackles usually appear black from a distance, but in reality, they have glossy purple heads which contrast with their brownish iridescent bodies.
The Female Grackles are slightly less shiny and smaller in size than the males. Young Grackles are brownish in color and tend to darken as they grow and reach adulthood.
11. Why do Some Grackles have White Heads?
The Grackles with white patches or Leucistic Grackles are generally known to have whiteheads because of leucism or defects in their pigment cells.
Leucism can occur in a variety of bird species and can cause a completely white bird or a bird with white patches. When birds cannot produce melanin in normalcy, their color pattern tends to change into albino (complete white), Leucistic (white patches), or diluted colors.
12. When are Grackles Most Active During the Day?
Grackles are generally Diurnal creatures and are therefore active throughout the day spending most of the time together in a flock, singing creaking songs from the treetops and mainly foraging on the ground, in shrubs, or near the water bodies.
Where Do Grackles Go at Night?
Being diurnal creatures, Grackles tend to spend the nights in rest. The Great-tailed Grackles take shelter under shady trees and settle down there for spending the night.
However, they are seldom found in open areas of towns, together in a flock, especially in the parking areas of grocery stores and restaurants.
13. Why do Grackles Lose their Tail Feathers?
Most of the bird species including Grackles lose their tail feathers primarily as a part of natural molting.
Birds tend to shed all their feathers, including their tail feathers, at least once a year in order to replace them with new ones. Grackles are no exception to this natural molting pattern and are therefore seldom found without or lacking tail feathers.
Feathers are mainly replaced regularly for the perfect health and functionality of birds and are therefore supposed to be a normal process in Grackle’s life cycle.
14. Why Do Grackles Always Look Up?
Grackles generally look up towards the sky to establish their dominance over others in the same feeding group and showcase their aggressive behaviors towards each other.
This practice of vertically tilting their bills in order to display aggression and dominance is also called ‘bill-tilt’ or ‘heads-up’ and is utilized by Grackles even during their breeding season to win the right of courtship, attract, and safeguard the female Grackles from other males.
The one that is capable of keeping his bill tilted upwards higher and longer than the others generally establishes its dominance over the other Grackles and earns the right to mate with a particular female Grackle.
15. Where Do Grackles Go in Winter?
Grackles migrate short distances from the North-Western region of The United States and lower Canada to the South-Eastern parts of the United States during the Winters.
The migratory trends of Grackles are often referred to as partial migration since their movements cover relatively short distances between their mating regions and migrating sites.
They usually withdraw from the arenas of Northern America, east of the Rocky Mountains, and settle down in the Central and Southern parts of the United States. However, some Grackles may opt for staying in the same exact locations and bravely confront the cold wintry months.
16. What are Grackles Good For?
Although hated by many, Grackles, in reality, play a very crucial role in our surroundings, of course besides cleaning the trash and leftovers spilled over the sidewalks!
Grackles tend to primarily feed on insects, including Wasps, Spiders, Moths, Grasshoppers and Beetles, that destroy and eat plants.
The more insects there are consuming, the fewer numbers of these insects are left behind to eat and destroy plants, thus ultimately contributing to the conservation of useful plants. They also fit well in our food chains, eating and getting eaten by others.
17. What are Grackles Afraid Of?
Like any other creatures, Grackles are also primarily scared of dangers from their predators, especially larger ones such as Owls, Hawks, and Harriers.
Visual deterrents and sound deterrents are most significantly utilized to effectively drive out and scare off the Grackles from the backyards of commoners since they are extremely quick and are always alert to threats.
18. Grackles Vs Starlings
Although Grackles and Starlings may look quite similar because of their similar shape and appearances at a first glance, they are actually two totally distinctive species of Birds.
Grackles belong to the family Icteridae and are native to the Northern and Southern parts of America, while Starlings belong to the family Sturnidae and are mostly native to Europe, Asia, and Africa.
The major difference between the two is that while Starlings have dark eyes, pinkish feet, and short yellow bill, Grackles generally have dark feet, dark bill, yellow eyes, and are larger than Starlings.
Grackles are opportunistic foragers feeding on whatever is available to them, but Starlings primarily feed on insects and seeds. Starlings are generally quieter than Grackles when they spend their time together in a group.
19. Grackles Vs Blackbirds
Grackles and Blackbirds share some similar characteristics in respect to body shape and coloration to a greater extent making it really hard to identify and distinguish between the two.
However, most of these species differ from each other significantly on the basis of their size, beak, and appearances.
Grackles are generally about 33% larger in size than Blackbirds and have an upright posture that gives them a lean and lanky appearance. Blackbirds, on the other hand, are chunkier with a rounded body shape and short neck.
The tails of Grackles are usually 50% of their body length that is longer than that of Blackbirds which is not more than one-third of theirs.
The feathers of Grackles exhibit an iridescent aspect of their blueish appearance, while Blackbirds, on the other hand, have pigmented color features that create red, yellow, or orange colors in patches in different parts of their body.
Blackbirds tend to have a shorter triangular-shaped beak, whereas Grackles have much longer cone-shaped beaks.
Thus, it is clear that Grackles are one of the finest species of Birds present in our surroundings with some exclusive characteristic features. It is being discovered that these bird species are generally opportunistic foragers and display some unique behaviors such as the ‘bill-tilt’.
Grackles are quite intelligent and have distinctive color features giving them an iridescent appearance. All the main aspects of their livelihood, including lifespan, feeding habits, breeding, characteristics, migration, behaviors, and unique features, are the primary focus of this account.
Their main differences and comparison with that of the two closely related bird species, Starlings and Blackbirds, have displayed the uniqueness of Grackles and their distinctive behaviors.
Thus, it is apparent from the above discussions on the most important facts that, even though Grackles are being hated by many for their harsh singing, they deserve to be appreciated.