Boat-tailed Grackle

Hey guys, welcome back! You may remember way back over a year ago I featured the common grackle, and in that post stated that they’re one of my favorite birds. This is true, and it applies to other members of the grackle family, including this one, the boat-tailed grackle. Quick glance at the picture above might lead you to believe that figuring out the difference between the two would be difficult. Well, it’s actually easier than you might think. First off, unless you’re in Florida (where they’re found throughout the state), if you’re any distance away from the Atlantic Ocean, you’re probably not seeing a boat-tailed. They rarely stray far from the Atlantic coast. For example, in the 4+ years worked and birding in NYC’s Central Park, there was only 1 boat-tailed grackle sighting (a second showed up just a few weeks ago too), but travel a couple miles away to Brooklyn or Queens along the Atlantic coast and they were quite common. Another difference is size. The male boat-tailed is larger than the common grackle, and the tail is much bigger. It’s more difficult to separate the boat-tailed and great-tailed grackles where their ranges overlap.

Boat-tailed Grackle
female boat-tailed grackle, Liberty State Park, Jersey City, NJ

Boat-tailed grackles differ in another way. The female of the species. A female common grackle is black and shiny just like the male (although the amount of iridescence is usually less.) But the female boat-tailed grackle is a rich brown color throughout. Boat-tailed grackles live and nest in large colonies, and breed in a mating system called harem defense polygyny. Basically the males battle it out to see who the leader of the colony gets to be, and that male gets to mate with all the females of the colony. Scientists have found, however, through DNA testing that while the “alpha” grackle may win the right to lead and mate, he’s not the only one mating with the females. Sounds like another episode of bird Maury.

I remember my first boat-tailed grackle. I was riding my bike along Brooklyn’s waterfront, near Plum Beach and saw a grackle with a huge tail in the bushes beside the trail. My second was while scanning a mudflat in New Jersey’s Liberty State Park for shorebirds and seeing a brown bird. Took a minute to realize it was a female boat-tailed grackle! The last one I saw was in Sag Harbor, NY where I had stopped on my way to East Hampton. No longer living on the east coast, there’s no telling when I may see another. But at least I can check it off the list. Next time, we’ll look at our second tern species. See you then!

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