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.

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.


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.


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


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.


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

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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

See a fully interactive migration map for over 450 bird species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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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 Will Reshape the Range of the Boat-tailed Grackle

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate Threats Near You

Climate threats facing the Boat-tailed Grackle

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.