Great-tailed Grackle

Quiscalus mexicanus


Sean Williams
Search this contributor Profile

eBird Checklist S85496719
Nelson Field, Plymouth
Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States
Search this location, Illustrated Checklist
Latitude and Longitude 41.9676, -70.672 Map

Not specified
Not specified

Media notes

Observation details

***Mega. First record for the US east coast; one record from Nova Scotia in Nov 1983-Feb 1984. At 8 am, I pulled into the Nelson Beach parking lot in one of the spaces at the far end before the second rotary. There were 2-3 other cars in the lot, as well as several grackles and starlings pecking around at crumbs. Through the windshield, I noticed what appeared to be a very large grackle with a long tail perched ~30 feet away on top of a 3 ft tall stone piling. Momentarily I was confused about whether the bird actually was as large as I perceived or I misjudged the size of the piling as smaller than it was, making the grackle appear huge. I immediately exited the car and grabbed my camera from the trunk, during which time (08:02) the grackle flew to a nearby treetop and began singing and displaying among Common Grackles. The size comparison was dramatic such that this bird was closer to the size of a crow than a Common Grackle. I began photographing it and obtained a recording. At 08:07, the grackle returned to the parking lot and remained there foraging mostly between cars until 08:13, at which time it perched in nearby trees. At 08:20, the bird flew out of sight into the direction of Russell Ave. It returned at 8:32, ate part of a waffle in the parking lot, perched briefly on a fence, and by 8:36 it flew again to the top of the same trees as before for one minute before flying inland to the west. The rest of the day and the next morning were spent searching by many observers without success. A male in Ohio was present from May 6-16, 1985, and seen on only four days within that window. Hopefully this bird remains in the area and will be rediscovered. Upon realizing this was a Boat-tailed or Great-tailed Grackle, either of which would be a first state record, I began documenting it with photos and audio, and seeking feedback from others, in particular Jeremiah Trimble and Marshall Iliff. My initial impression of this bird was Boat-tailed Grackle due to the habitat (parking lot adjacent to saltmarsh); tail length, which is short relative to the typical adult male Great-tailed Grackle; and proximity of the nearest established population of either species (100 miles away in Connecticut for Boat-tailed vs. 1000 miles away in the Midwest for Great-tailed). However, after sending the recording to Jeremiah and Marshall, they both thought it matched Great-tailed better than Boat-tailed and strongly recommended considering Great-tailed Grackle more seriously (many thanks, guys). During displays, this bird raised its body feathers and held its wings slightly laterally. It did not flick its wings or hold them above the body. It gave a number of bizarre vocalizations that might be best imitated by shoving unsuitable objects down a garbage disposal. Such noises included: a two-note series of deep raspy notes, the second of which increased in pitch and removed the rasp at the end; it never gave the typical long series of deep raspy notes of Boat-tailed Grackle; a hollow screech that wound up and terminated in a clean, upward inflected scream somewhat like an oropendola; a series of roughly 10 short, piercing notes; several short choppy series of oriole-like chatter that was not given in close chronology to other calls. Its contact note was a husky “churt” similar to Common Grackle but deeper in pitch. The plumage was mostly a deep iridescent navy blue to violet, with the violet occurring on the head and upper body, and blue throughout the rest of the body. The iris was a bright lightning yellow. The bill was formidably thick and long, and the crown was often held completely flat. The tarsometarsi were stilted in length, especially in comparison to Common Grackles. The tail was longer than on nearby grackles relative to the body length, although ~20% shorter than typical for adult male Great-tailed Grackles. It did not appear that the tail was in molt. Birds of North America states that Great-tailed Grackles in their first year have shorter tails than adult males, and do not gain the full tail length until after their second full molt in Jun-Sep (Johnson and Peer 2020). This bird was twice as large as nearby Common Grackles, and appeared closer in size to a Fish Crow in part due to tail length. Common Grackle males average 140g, Great-tailed Grackle males average 220g, and Fish Crows average 300g. Thanks to Jeremiah Trimble, Marshall Iliff, Tim Lenz, and Jeff Offermann for providing key early discussion on the identification. Additionally, Marshall sought feedback on the audio recording from other observers experienced with Boat-tailed and Great-tailed Grackles, including Chris Wood, Ian Davies, and Tom Johnson; Tom got additional feedback from Michael O’Brien and Dan Lane. The strong consensus from all queried was that the single clip of audio included diagnostic phrases for Great-tailed Grackle and inconsistent with Boat-tailed Grackle, in particular after 40 s in the recording. Thanks also to Dan Burton, who forwarded the sighting details to a coworker, Leslie Gomes. Leslie recalled an unusual grackle she observed at Spooner Pond (one mile north) from the previous day (Friday, April 9) and obtained a video which showed a displaying male Great-tailed Grackle, surely the same bird. Massachusetts has two accepted records of Boat-tailed/Great-tailed Grackle: Apr 1986, Newbury (Richard Forster; Forster 1986) and Oct 2002, Newburyport (Rick Heil and Jan Smith; Rines 2002). This species occurs from northeastern South America, throughout Central America, and into the southwest United States. In the 1880’s, it was limited to south Texas in the eastern US, and has since expanded north to Iowa and Nebraska, and east to the Mississippi River in Louisiana (Wehtje 2002). As of April 2021, there are five records accepted by records committees away from US states that border the Mississippi River: US (2) Indiana - Oct 1991 female Ohio - May 1985, 1 male [Alabama - Sep 2000, treated as hypothetical] Canada (3) Long Point area, ON - Nov 1988–Jan 1989, 1 female; Feb 2004, 1 female; Dec 2019, 1 sex unknown There are five other extralimital Boat-tailed/Great-tailed Grackle records for northeast North America: US (3) Michigan - April 2004, 1 male Maine - May 1994, 1 male; Sep 2010, 1 female (worth noting that these two records and the two MA Boat-tailed/Great tailed records were all identified as Boat-tailed in the field) Canada (2) Burnt Island, Muskoka, ON - Aug 1999, 1 female Pabos Mills, QC - May 1993 Literature Cited: Johnson, K. and B. D. Peer. 2020. Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. Forster, R. 1986. Sighting of Boat-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus major) in Massachusetts. Bird Observer 14:206-207. Rines, M. 2002. Seventh annual report of the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee. Bird Observer 31:95-103. Wehtje, W. 2002. The range expansion of the Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus Gmelin) in North America since 1880. Journal of Biogeography 30:1593-1607.

Technical Information

Canon EOS R5
Lens model
RF100-500mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM + EXTENDER RF1.4x
Focal length
420 mm
Shutter speed
1/1600 sec
Flash did not fire
Original file size
3000 x 1688

Related Media

Same Observation

View All

Same Checklist

View All

Same Species

View All