Quiscalus mexicanusgreat-tailed grackle

Geographic Range

The great-tailed grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus, was historically almost exclusively found in South and Central America, but human alteration of the environment has caused the birds to expand their range to include parts of the United States and Canada (Christensen, 2000). Their current range in the United States is north to eastern Oregon, with individuals sighted as far north as Canada (Sauer et al., 1997), south to northwest Peru, and as far east as Western Arkansas (Jaramillo, 1999).


The great-tailed grackle is found in a variety of habitats, including groves, thickets, farms, towns, city parks, (Peterson, 1990), mangroves, and marshes (Jaramillo, 1999).

Physical Description

The male great-tailed grackle is a large blackbird that appears purple-glossed. He averages approximately 45 cm in length and has a long ample tail. A potential identification problem exists between the boat-tailed grackle and the great-tailed, but the tail of the great-tailed tends to be wider and longer. The female is brown with a pale breast, and averages 35 cm in length. Both sexes have distinctive yellow eyes as adults (Peterson, 1990).


The female of the species incubates the egg for 13-14 days. The chicks are born immobile, downless, with their eyes closed, and need to be fed by a parent. (Altricial development). The young leave the nest after a period of 20 to 23 days, and the female tends to them. (Sibley 2001).


Early in the spring males establish small territories and begin the process of attracting females. The breeding is polygynous, and the females nest in the territory of one male. Several females will nest in a single male's territory, and mate with him. First year males are excluded from breeding but young females are not. The main display is the "ruff-out" which is accompanied by a song. In the "ruff-out" the tail is fanned while the body feathers are ruffed and the head is arched upwards as it sings. The wings are drooped and quivered or held out towards the sides. The male courtship display differs in that it is more exaggerated, the bill is pointed down rather than up, and the wings are rapidly quivered while the bird produces distinctive "cheat" notes. The female may respond by drooping and quivering the wings as the tail is cocked and gives "che" calls. (Jaramilo 1999)

First year males are excluded from mating, but young females (1 yr.) are not (Jaramillo, 1999). The breeding season begins in early April. Nesting occurs in colonies of few to thousands, with the nests placed close together. The males tend to avoid confrontation with low key disputes. The females will fight over the choice of nest sites, and will steal nest building materials from one another. Clutch sizes tend to average 3 to 4 eggs, and females incubate them for 13 to 15 days. The young are born altricial and leave the nest at 20 to 23 days (Harrison, 1978).

  • Breeding season
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 4
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    13 to 15 days
  • Range fledging age
    20 to 23 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 to 2 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 to 2 years

Chicks are born immobile, downless, with their eyes closed, and need to be fed by a parent. The males do not participate in nesting or care of the young.


A banded great-tailed grackle lived at least 12.5 years. (USGS, 2002)


Great-tailed grackles prefer to roost and forage in large groups, particularly in the non-breeding months. In the winter foraging tends to occur in single sex groups. (Jaramilo, 1999)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The great-tailed grackle is known to eat insects, lizards, aquatic invertebrates and vertebrates, fruit, grain, and grass seed (Sibley, 2001). They are also known to remove and eat ectoparasites from livestock. Male nestlings appear to require more food than females of the same age (Ehrlich et al., 1988).

  • Animal Foods
  • reptiles
  • fish
  • eggs
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

May aid in agricultural pest control.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Adult males are nearly granivorous (Jaramillo, 1999)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Over the past 30 years the great-tailed grackle has expanded its range in the U.S. at a rate of greater than 2.5% annually. This expansion is due to human modification of the landscape. Irrigation in arid areas, urbanization, and increasing cropland have all contributed to this expansion of range.(Christensen 2000)


Patrick Koby (author), University of Arizona, Todd McWhorter (editor), University of Arizona.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


having more than one female as a mate at one time


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


uses sight to communicate


Christensen, A. 2000. "The Fifteenth- and twentieth-century colonization of the Basin of Mexico by the Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)" (On-line). Accessed March 2, 2002 at http://www.blackwell-science.com/geb.

Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook : a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Harrison, C. 1978. A field guide to the nests, eggs, and nestlings of North American birds. Cleveland, Ohio: W. Collins Sons and Co..

Jaramillo, A., P. Burke. 1999. New World Blackbirds. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Peterson, R. 1990. Western Birds. Boston, Ma.: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Sauer, J., . Hines, G. Gough, I. Thomas, B. Peterjohn. 1997. "The North American Breeding Bird Survey Results and Analysis. Version 96.4." (On-line). Accessed March 28, 2002 at http://www.mbr.nbs.gov/bbs/bbs96.html.

Sibley, C. 2001. The Cornell lab of ornithology's guide to birds of North America version 3.0 (Electronic media- CD). Thayer Birding Software.

USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, 2002. "Longevity records of North American birds" (On-line). Accessed July 15, 2002 at http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl/homepage/longvrec.htm.