The Boat tailed Grackle: An Intelligent and Adaptable Bird

It’s easy for us humans to forget how intelligent and adaptable other species on our planet can be.

Have you heard of the boat-tailed grackle? 

The boat tailed grackle is a blackbird species found in the southeastern United States.

It gets its name from its long, keel-shaped tail and frequent presence around lakes, rivers, and coastal areas.

Boat-tailed grackles are highly intelligent and resourceful birds that adapt well to human activity.

They’re not just intelligent but also very resourceful. They have no trouble adjusting to the presence of humans.

Look closer at the boat-tailed grackle and learn more about their appearance, diet, habitat, nesting behavior, interactions, and more.

Let’s dive into our topic!


Are grackles intelligent birds? Appearance and Identification

 They are adept in the arts of hunting and gathering

Great-tailed Grackles are capable of completing Aesop’s Fable challenges by throwing stones into a container of water to increase the level of the water enough to draw out a prize;

In the urban wild, they patiently comb the grilles of parked automobiles for insects that have been squashed.

The boat-tailed grackle is a large, sturdy blackbird, measuring 18 to 22 inches long.

We can easily spot the male bird because of its stunning purple-blue head and bronze-colored back.

One of the most obvious features of this creature is its long, v-shaped tail.

Females are smaller than males and duller in color, lacking the male’s iridescent sheen.

Boat-tailed grackles have pale yellow eyes, a short black beak, and long legs. They walk with a characteristic swagger as they forage on the ground.

Their call is a loud, squealing whistle. Boat-tailed grackles are often mistaken for common grackles but can be distinguished by larger size, longer tail, and coastal habitat.


What does Boat tailed Grackle eat?

As omnivores, boat-tailed grackles have a varied diet.

Boat-tailed grackles usually eat various foods like insects, fish, nestlings, grains, and berries, they also eat eggs of birds that lay light blue eggs

Boat-tailed grackles eat trash, dumpsters, and compost heaps in search of food scraps.

Boat-tailed grackles are also opportunistic, feeding on whatever prey or food sources are most abundant in their environment.

These grackles forage in large groups, especially where food sources are concentrated.

They wade into shallow water to catch small fish and aquatic invertebrates or pick through seaweed and debris on the shore.

Boat-tailed grackles also forage in recently plowed or burned fields, feeding on exposed insects, worms, and other prey.

They frequently steal from each other or bully smaller birds to get access to food.

Do grackles eat meat?

Boat-tailed grackles are carnivores and omnivores, so they eat grains, fruits, grogs, lizards, insects, and birds.


What is the Habitat and Nesting of a grackle?

Boat tailed grackles like lakes, rivers, marshes, and swamps.

They live in pastures, orchards, farms, and urban and suburban parks. They create enormous nests near water using mud, grasses, and sticks.

The female lays 3 to 5 eggs incubated by both parents for about 2 weeks.

The chicks fledge after around 21 days, but they still need their parents for a few weeks as they learn to hunt and gather food.

Boat-tailed grackles may produce more than one brood in a breeding season. Interaction Boat-tailed grackles thrive in human-modified habitats and often come into conflict with humans.

They cause agricultural damage by feeding on crops and frequently congregate in large, noisy groups in urban areas.

Their droppings can also damage property and spread disease.

However, boat-tailed grackles are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, so non-lethal methods like habitat modification, scare tactics, and exclusion are recommended to control populations.

These intelligent birds readily adapt to human presence and exploit new food sources.

They have expanded their range by associating with humans and feeding on waste or handouts.

Boat tailed grackles may become quite tame and socialized to people in areas where they are frequently fed.

But generally, they remain wary and aloof around humans outside exploiting food resources.


Do grackles interact with other bird species? Are grackles aggressive?

Boat-tailed grackles are often aggressive and antagonistic toward other bird species. Some key interactions include:

  • They frequently bully smaller birds like sparrows, warblers, and sandpipers to gain access to food sources or nesting spots. They may chase away other birds or even prey on their eggs and chicks.


  • Boat tailed grackles compete with other blackbird species like common grackles, red-winged blackbirds, and rusty blackbirds for habitat and resources. Though they nest in mixed flocks, they establish dominance hierarchies that give boat-tailed grackles priority access to food and nest sites.


  • They aggressively defend their breeding territories against intrusion from other boat-tailed grackles and species. Both males and females drive away intruders, though males typically take the lead in territorial defense.


  • Boat-tailed grackles often steal food from each other and other species. They frequently rob smaller birds of their catches or scavenge leftovers if given the opportunity.


  • They may mob and attack birds of prey like hawks, eagles, and owls that enter their territory, especially during the breeding season. By harassing these predators, they try to drive them away from nesting and foraging areas.


Can boat tailed grackles talk, and how do they communicate?

black bird with blue head

Boat-tailed grackles are vocal and social birds that communicate in several ways:

  • Calls: Boat tailed grackles have a variety of loud calls they use to communicate. Their most common call is a loud, squealing whistle. They also make grunting, cackling, and chattering sounds. Males sing a buzzing, metallic song during the breeding season to attract mates and establish territory. Calls are used for alarms, keeping groups together, defending resources, and mating displays.


  • Visual displays: Boat-tailed grackles perform several visual displays, especially during breeding. Males spread their wings and tail, puff out their feathers, and bow to attract females and confront other males. They also make aerial displays, circling high before swooping down. These visual displays communicate dominance, defend territory, and attract mates.


  • Crowd gathering: Boat tailed grackles often communicate through the sheer size of their flocks. Large aggregations of grackles can intimidate competitors, predators, and mates. Gathering in crowds also allows them to locate new food sources and share information. The constant noise and activity within the flock also serve a communicative purpose.


  • Aggressive behavior: Boat tailed grackles communicate aggressively, like chasing, pecking, and mobbing other birds. They threaten each other by spreading wings and tails, hissing, and chasing to establish dominance over mates, feeding spots, and nesting territories. Aggressive behavior is used both intra- and interspecifically.


  • Non-vocal sounds: Boat-tailed grackles make various sounds with wings, bills, and feet. Bill-clicking, wing-fluttering, and foot-stamping are used during displays or when approaching other birds. These non-vocal sounds and visual displays help grackles communicate intent and dominance in an encounter.


  • Feeding calls: Hungry juvenile boat-tailed grackles give constant, repetitive calls to solicit food from their parents. As they get older, they continue giving begging calls when soliciting food from each other or potential mates. These feeding calls persist into adulthood and allow grackles to manipulate each other for access to resources.


You should know Bird wings!



In summary, the boat tailed grackle is a versatile and adaptable bird well suited to various coastal and inland wetland habitats and human-modified environments.

The look is striking, and the behavior is intricate. These grackles present an interesting study of adaptation and conflict with the human world.

Although often considered pests, they remain an integral part of the ecosystems they inhabit.

While these birds may sometimes cause conflicts with humans, non-lethal methods are recommended for controlling their populations.

Let’s appreciate the boat-tailed grackle for its resourcefulness, adaptability, and impressive survival skills!



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Dr. Asfand Yar is a distinguished ornithologist and wildlife biologist with a Ph.D. in Ornithology and an M.S. in Wildlife Biology. With over two decades of experience, he is a recognized authority in avian research, specializing in bird migration and conservation within the European Economic Area (EEA). Dr. Asfand extensive academic background and fieldwork have resulted in numerous publications, contributing significantly to the ornithological field.