At a Glance
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.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Blackbirds and Orioles, Perching Birds
Coasts and Shorelines, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands, Urban and Suburban Habitats
Florida, Mid Atlantic, Southeast, Texas
Direct Flight, Flap/Glide
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Generally a permanent resident, but a few northern breeders may move south in fall.
Males 16-17" (41-43 cm); females 13-14 (33-35 cm). Like Great-tailed Grackle but a bit shorter-tailed, rounder-headed. Where they overlap (Texas-Louisiana coast), Boat-tail has dark eyes (but young Great-tail does also). From northeast Florida north, Boat-tail has yellow eyes; see Common Grackle.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Brown, Tan
Long, Rounded, Wedge-shaped
Songs and Calls
Harsh jeeb-jeeb-jeeb-jeeb, unlike the whistles and clucks of the Great-tailed Grackle.
Buzz, Chatter, Chirp/Chip, Rattle
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.
Sign up for Audubon's newsletter to learn more about birds like the Boat-tailed Grackle
Usually 2-4. Pale greenish blue, irregularly marked with brown, gray, and black. Incubation is by female only, about 13-15 days.
Fed by female only. Young leave the nest about 12-15 days after hatching.
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.
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.
Very common within its range; has extended its breeding range northward on Atlantic Coast in recent decades.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Boat-tailed Grackle. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
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.