Photo: Bill Gozansky/Vireo

Boat-tailed Grackle

Quiscalus major

Until the 1970s, this big blackbird was considered to be the same species as the Great-tailed Grackle, but the two forms overlap on the coasts of Texas and Louisiana without interbreeding. The Boat-tail is a more aquatic creature, nesting in marshes, scavenging on beaches. Except in Florida, it is seldom found far away from tidewater. Boat-tailed Grackles nest in noisy colonies, the males displaying conspicuously with much wing-fluttering and harsh repeated calls.
Conservation status Very common within its range; has extended its breeding range northward on Atlantic Coast in recent decades.
Family Blackbirds and Orioles
Habitat Marshes, beaches, areas near coast; also inland in Florida. Almost always near water and very close to coast, in marshes, flooded fields, mudflats. Sometimes forages in drier fields in coastal regions. Occurs well inland in Florida, but generally near marshes and lakes.
Until the 1970s, this big blackbird was considered to be the same species as the Great-tailed Grackle, but the two forms overlap on the coasts of Texas and Louisiana without interbreeding. The Boat-tail is a more aquatic creature, nesting in marshes, scavenging on beaches. Except in Florida, it is seldom found far away from tidewater. Boat-tailed Grackles nest in noisy colonies, the males displaying conspicuously with much wing-fluttering and harsh repeated calls.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • adult male
  • adult male
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly near water, by walking on shore or in shallow water, catching items with rapid thrusts of its bill. Sometimes steals food from larger birds. Will enter heron colonies to feed on unguarded eggs.


Eggs

Usually 2-4. Pale greenish blue, irregularly marked with brown, gray, and black. Incubation is by female only, about 13-15 days. Young: Fed by female only. Young leave the nest about 12-15 days after hatching.


Young

Fed by female only. Young leave the nest about 12-15 days after hatching.

Diet

Omnivorous. Much of diet is taken from water, including many aquatic insects, snails, crayfish, crabs, mussels, shrimp, tadpoles, frogs, and small fish. Also eats land insects (including grasshoppers and caterpillars), eggs and young of other birds. Seeds and grain important in diet at some seasons.


Nesting

Nests in colonies. In courtship and territorial display, male perches in the open, fluffs out feathers, spreads tail, and rapidly flutters wings above back while making a variety of harsh and rattling calls. Also postures with bill pointed straight up, especially when threatening another bird. Several males may display together. Both males and females often promiscuous. Nest site is usually near water: in cattails, sawgrass, or bulrushes, in bushes or saplings at edge of marsh, or in taller trees. Generally less than 12' above ground or water, but can be much higher. Nest (built by female) is large, bulky cup of twigs, grass, weeds, bulrushes, Spanish moss, or other available materials, often with mud added to base; lined with fine grass.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Generally a permanent resident, but a few northern breeders may move south in fall.

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Migration

Generally a permanent resident, but a few northern breeders may move south in fall.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Harsh jeeb-jeeb-jeeb-jeeb, unlike the whistles and clucks of the Great-tailed Grackle.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Blackbirds and Orioles Perching Birds

Boat-tailed Grackle

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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