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Sarah’s Birds: Boat-tailed Grackle

By Sarah Harper Diaz

Boat-tailed Grackle.

Boat-tailed Grackle.

The Boat-tailed Grackle is a large blackbird which if found along the Gulf and East coasts as far north as New York. Adult males are an iridescent black with a long, broad tail. Females are about half the size of males and are a dull dark brown with a lighter brown belly. Boat-tailed Grackles have a diverse diet and will forage for insects, reptiles, and amphibians as well as visit bird feeders and dumps. The unusual mating system of this species is called a harem polygyny. Numerous females gather in suitable breeding areas and build their nests in colonies. Usually, these colonies are located in fresh or brackish marshes. One dominant male and a one or two subdominant males patrol the colony and mate with females. Inferior roaming males will not enter the colonies but will sometimes mate with females when they are out foraging. Females alone build the nest, incubate the eggs, and feed the young. High-ranking males will defend the colonies by attempting to chase away predators such as rat snakes, rice rats, and Cooper’s Hawks. 

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