• Female
  • Male. Note: long keel-shaped tail.

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Great-tailed Grackle

Quiscalus mexicanus
Members of this diverse group make up more than half of the bird species worldwide. Most are small. However their brains are relatively large and their learning abilities are greater than those of most other birds. Passerine birds are divided into two suborders, the suboscines and the oscines. Oscines are capable of more complex song, and are considered the true songbirds. In Washington, the tyrant flycatchers are the only suboscines; the remaining 27 families are oscines.
This New World family of medium and large songbirds is very familiar, as most species are common inhabitants in human-altered settings. Many are partly to entirely black, often with iridescence or bright markings of some sort. Most blackbird species form flocks at certain times of the year, and many form multispecies flocks. Blackbirds live in open habitats and eat seeds, grain, and insects. They often forage in agricultural areas, where they can be considered pests. These birds generally forage on the ground where they are well adapted for a behavior called gaping. They insert their long, slender bills into the ground, and then open their bills to get at underground insects. Blackbirds also use this technique to get into fruits and some insects, and to reach insects that are cocooned inside wrapped leaves. Most build open-cup nests in trees, shrubs, or on the ground. Many members of this family are polygynous. Females generally build the nests and incubate the eggs, and males help feed the young.

    General Description

    Abundant and highly visible year round in a variety of open, rural and urban landscapes in Mexico, Central America, and coastal northern South America, the Great-tailed Grackle has been extending its range northward and westward for the last hundred years and is now resident in the United States from Texas to Iowa and California. It is annual, and has nested, in Oregon, and is a rare resident breeder in southern Idaho. Washington has four accepted records (earliest 1987) and there are at least two records from British Columbia (earliest 1979).

    The adult male is glossy black with a yellow eye and a bluish-purple sheen on the head and back. The adult female, considerably smaller, is brown with buffy underparts and a pale eye. Both sexes have a keel-shaped tail, which is especially long in the male. The male somewhat resembles a Common Grackle but is much larger and longer-billed, with a purplish rather than a bronzy sheen on the back. The tail is also proportionally longer—as long as the body, or even longer. The female looks a bit like the female Brewer’s Blackbird but is much larger, longer-billed and longer-tailed, with a pale rather than a dark eye.

    Revised November 2007

    North American Range Map

    North America map legend

    Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List

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