Male. Note: glossy bronze body and heavy bill.
  • Male. Note: glossy bronze body and heavy bill.

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Common Grackle

Quiscalus quiscula
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

    A widespread resident east of the Rockies in southern Canada and the United States, the Common Grackle has been expanding its range westward in recent decades. It now nests in eastern Idaho and is annual in Oregon. The first Washington record was from Seattle (King County) in 1965. Of the total of twelve accepted records in the state, eight are from the Columbia Plateau, three are from the Puget Trough lowlands, and one is from the outer coast. Three-quarters of the records have occurred in spring and summer (March–August) and the remainder in fall and winter (October–January). Common Grackle nests in the lowlands of northeastern British Columbia, east of the continental divide, but is very rare to casual elsewhere in the province.

    Both sexes are all-black with a yellow eye and a bluish sheen on the head, and have keel-shaped tails; females are somewhat smaller. The subspecies that occurs in the Northwest shows a bronzy sheen on the back and breast (less pronounced in the female). The most likely confusion species in Washington is the male Brewer’s Blackbird, which, however, is considerably smaller with a thinner bill; a much shorter, keel-less tail; and a greenish sheen on the back. See also Great-tailed Grackle (an even rarer vagrant in Washington than Common Grackle) and Rusty Blackbird, a rare winter visitor in the state.

    Revised November 2007

    North American Range Map

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

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