Conservation status Still expanding its range and increasing in numbers. Competition with this species may have played a part in the extinction of the Slender-billed Grackle in central Mexico many years ago.
Family Blackbirds and Orioles
Habitat Groves, thickets, farms, towns, city parks. Found in many kinds of open and semi-open country, mostly in the lowlands, including farmland, marshes, irrigated fields, suburban lawns, brushy areas. Avoids true desert situations but may be common around streams or ponds in dry country.
Wherever it occurs, this big blackbird is impossible to overlook -- especially the male, with his great oversized tail and incredible variety of callnotes. In the southwest, flocks of Great-tailed Grackles feed in open country during the day, but often come into towns at night, forming noisy roosting aggregations in the trees in city parks. During recent decades, this species has greatly expanded its range within our area, and it is still spreading north in some areas.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly on the ground, or by wading in very shallow water. Also forages in trees and shrubs, especially searching for nests to rob. Generally feeds in flocks.


3-4, sometimes 5. Pale greenish blue, irregularly marked with brown, gray, and black. Incubation is by female only, about 13-14 days. Young: Fed by female only. Young leave the nest about 3 weeks after hatching.


Fed by female only. Young leave the nest about 3 weeks after hatching.


Omnivorous. Diet is extremely varied; includes many insects, also spiders, millipedes, snails, crayfish, tadpoles, small fish, lizards, eggs and nestlings of other birds, and sometimes adult birds. Also eats a wide variety of seeds, waste grain, berries, fruit, and nuts.


Nests in colonies, from a few pairs to hundreds at times. In courtship and territorial display, male perches in the open, fluffs out feathers, partly spreads wings and tail, rapidly flutters wings while making harsh calls. Also postures with bill pointed straight up, mainly as a threat display to other birds. Both males and females may have more than one mate. Nest site varies; usually in dense vegetation near water, including dense shrubs or low trees, but also in marsh or in tall trees. Often 2-20' above ground or water, but can be as high as 50'. Nest (built by female) is a bulky open cup made of twigs, grass, weeds, cattails, rushes, whatever materials are readily available; lined with fine grass. Mud or manure often added to base of nest. Females may steal nest material from each other.

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

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Mostly migratory in northern parts of its range; however, it has recently become a permanent resident in some areas where it formerly occurred only in summer.

  • 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 this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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Songs and Calls

Variety of whistles, clucks, and hissing notes.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.