Brown bird with a flat head.
Distinguished from the Boat-tailed, the Great-tailed has a flat head. Photographed in Anahuac NWR.
A big, brash blackbird, the male Great-tailed Grackle shimmers in iridescent black and purple, and trails a tail that will make you look twice. The rich brown females are about half the male’s size. Flocks of these long-legged, social birds strut and hop on suburban lawns, golf courses, fields, and marshes in Texas, the Southwest, and southern Great Plains. In the evening, raucous flocks pack neighborhood trees, filling the sky with their amazing (some might say ear-splitting) voices.
In winter, enormous flocks of both male and female Great-tailed Grackles gather in “roost trees.” These winter roosts can contain thousands of individuals, with flocks of up to half a million occurring in sugarcane fields in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley.
In 1900 the northern edge of the Great-tailed Grackle’s range barely reached southern Texas. Since the 1960s they’ve followed the spread of irrigated agriculture and urban development into the Great Plains and West, and today are one of North America’s fastest-expanding species.
Because they’re smaller and require less food, female Great-tailed Grackle chicks are more likely than their brothers to survive to fledging. Likewise, adult females may outlive males, resulting in a “sex-biased” population with greater numbers of females than males.
Although you’ll usually see them feeding on land, Great-tailed Grackles may also wade into the water to grab a frog or fish.
Great-tailed Grackles—especially females—learn to recognize individual researchers working in their breeding colonies, and will react with a chut alarm call when they see the researcher, even away from the nesting site.
The Great-tailed and Boat-tailed grackles have at times been considered the same species. Current thinking is that they are closely related, but different species.
Note the round head similar to the iridescent black male.