As birders, most of you must warmly welcome all kinds of backyard birds into your yard. However, as with everything else, you can find exceptions to it as well. The only birds that no birder wants to see in the yard are large avian bullies like crows and blackbirds.
Both grackles and crows are medium-sized passerine birds with an overall black appearance. These birds are neither colorful nor do they sing well. In addition to that, they will also drive away the adorable little birds that have gathered on your feeders. But does this mean that they’re one and the same? Not at all.
While grackles and crows might have similarities in their appearance and tendencies, they’re very different from each other on several grounds as well.
Grackles and Crows belong to different families; grackles are icterids while crows are corvids. Crows are also generally larger and heavier than grackles and have different colored eyes. In terms of sexual dimorphism, the grackles surpass the crows. They display significant dimorphism in both size and plumage, while both sexes of crows are similar in plumage, with only the males being slightly larger.
In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between crows and grackles in-depth, learning about everything that can set these birds apart.
Crow vs. Grackle: at a glance
Grackles and crows share a number of features, as we’ve already mentioned. Both can be recognized based on a variety of factors, including appearance, nutrition, breeding behavior, feathers, black legs, and a black bill.
Moreover, these birds also possess dark, iridescent feathers that shimmer in the sunlight. When it comes to distinguishing between these birds, that iridescence can work as your first hint.
Take a look at this table given below that covers all the basic differences between these birds:
|Family||Belong to the Iceterid family||Belong to the Corvid family|
|Number of species||Roughly eleven species||About forty species|
|Weight||Adult regular grackles are 28-34 centimeters (11-13 in) long, with wingspan of 36?46 cm (14-18 in) and a weight of 74-142 grams (2.6-5.0 oz).||An American crow measures 40-50 centimeters (16-20 in) from beak to tail, with the tail accounting for over half of the total length. Their weight varies between 300-600 grams (11-21 oz).|
|Eye color||Yellow or pale golden eyes||Pure black eyes|
|Lifespan||Grackles have been observed to live up to 22 years, with an average longevity of 17 years.||Crows can live to be 20 years old on average.|
|Diet||Grackles are omnivorous||Crows are omnivores as well as scavengers|
|Vocalization||Squeaks, whistles, and croaks are all made by common grackles.||Mostly crows make loud caws, but they also can produce rattles, growls, coos, and other strange noises.|
|Migration status||Grackles are migratory in nature.||Crows are considered partially migratory.|
Now that we’ve covered these quick differences let’s look at each difference between crows and grackles in a detailed manner.
Differences in families
The most significant difference between grackles, crows, and ravens is in their families. Scientists have classified crows as members of the Corvidae family. All crows, ravens, and jays belong to the Corvidae family and are generally known as the corvids.
Though the American Crow is one of the most well-known and well-known bird species in North America, their family has over 120 species worldwide.
On the other hand, the grackles are placed within the blackbird family, Icteridae. Cowbirds, orioles, meadowlarks, cowbirds, along with several other groups, join the blackbirds in the Icteridae family. There are about 100 different species of birds in the Icteridae family.
Let’s take a look at the lists of grackle and crow species that are widely found in North America.
Grackle species found in North America:
- Boat-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus major)
- Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)
- Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)
- Greater Antillean Grackle (Quiscalus niger)
Crow species found in North America:
- American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
- Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix)
- Hawaiian Crow (Corvus hawaiiensis)
- Tamaulipas Crow (Corvus imparatu)
- Jamaican Crow (Corvus jamaicensis)
- Mariana Crow (Corvus kubaryi)
- White-necked Crow (Corvus leucognaphalus)
- Cuban Crow (Corvus nasicus)
- Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus)
- Palm Crow (Corvus palmarum)
- House Crow (Corvus splendens)
- Sinaloa Crow (Corvus cinaloae)
Differences in appearance
Since grackles and crows are close relatives and share some similarities in appearance, in order to reveal the points of differentiation, we’ll have to analyze their anatomies closely. That’s exactly what we’ll be doing in this section.
What do grackles look like?
Grackles are blackbirds with a slightly stretched appearance. They’re taller and have longer tails than other blackbirds, as well as longer, tapered bills and iridescent bodies.
These birds are quite long-legged and stroll around lawns and fields or congregate in noisy groups high in trees, usually evergreens.
What do crows look like?
Crows have long legs and strong, straight beaks, and they are significantly larger than most passerines. The entire body of these birds is black, including the legs and feet.
Crows have characteristic opalescent feathers on their upper backs, which are especially noticeable in the sunlight. Furthermore, these pests have fan-shaped tails that are visible when in flight and grow between 17 and 20 inches in length.
Major differences in appearance
Now that we’ve gathered a basic idea of what a grackle and a crow should look like, let’s compare their appearance on these grounds:
Crows and grackles both have stark black feathers with an iridescence that shimmers in the sunlight. When it comes to distinguishing between the two, you can use this iridescence.
The feathers of crows feature a mild iridescence, while the iridescence of most grackle species is a dazzling blue. However, the female grackles aren’t as shiny as male grackles and generally have dull brown plumage. On the other hand, both sexes of crows share the same black plumage.
Another way to determine the difference between a crow and a grackle is to look at their eyes. Crows are fully black, from their plumage to their eyes, with the exception of their younger ones, that have blue eyes.
In contrast, the eyes of most grackle species are yellow or pale gold in hue. Therefore, when you see a “crow” with yellow eyes, you’ve very certainly seen a grackle!
Body, shape, and size:
Both crows and grackles have black legs and a black bill. Therefore, in the case of their legs, the differences in size are perhaps the easiest way to tell them apart.
American Crows are around 18 inches long and weigh about two pounds on average, while the Common Grackles, which weigh only five ounces at their heaviest, are dwarfed by these enormous blackbirds.
Fun fact: The heaviest American Crows can weigh up to four times as much as the heaviest Common Grackles!
Crows have flexible beaks that allow them to eat a wide variety of foods, including fruits, seeds, insects, fish, and other small animals. Their beaks are thick, large, and black in color. Grackles also share the same coloration on their beaks; only their beaks are narrower and less flexible in comparison to that of the crows’.
When it comes to the crows, both males and females are so similar that it’s impossible to tell them apart. The males are only larger in size than their female counterparts. This comparison only works if two birds are seated next to each other.
Apart from their size, there are some behavioral variations between males and females as well, but they are difficult to spot.
However, the grackles are significantly sexually dimorphic and dichromatic. The body mass of the males ranges from 200 to 250 grams, while the females are much lighter and typically weigh between 100 and 120 grams.
Additionally, the plumage of males is black with blue and purple iridescence with a large, keel-shaped tail, while their female counterparts are duller in comparison and have a shorter tail.
Grackles have a shimmering appearance. On bright, sunny days, these colorful birds shine the brightest. On the other hand, crows don’t appear as shiny. The younger birds are somewhat glossy, but their plumage might appear reddish or scaly as they mature.
Differences in vocalization
You can also spot the difference between crows and grackles by listening to their calls intently. The noises made by crows are among the most well-known of all bird calls. A crow’s boisterous “caw!” can instantly be recognized by all of us.
Crows’ vocalizations are mostly loud caws, but they also create rattles, growls, coos, and other strange noises. They’re also good mimics and can learn to imitate other creatures’ vocalizations, including us.
Grackles do not share this distinctive sound. These birds communicate in squeaks, whistles, and croaks.
Most people consider grackles to have the most unpleasant voice, while some enjoy their beautiful vocalizations.
Differences in habitats
When it comes to habitats, the grackles and crows are not all that different. Grackles have followed people everywhere we go.
These adaptable birds can be found in agricultural and urban settings from sea level to 2300 meters, including open feeding areas, a water source, and trees or hedgerows.
Grackles can be found pecking for seeds in feedlots, farmyards, and newly planted fields in rural locations, as well as following tractors to feed on flying insects and exposed worms.
They can also forage in parks, neighborhood lawns, and landfills throughout the city. These birds aren’t likely to be found in deep forests, deserts, or prairie ecosystems without access to water.
On the other hand, crows are also high-adaptable birds that can inhabit any kind of environment on the earth.
You can spot them in both urban and rural settings, utilizing every available habitat. Forests, grasslands, agricultural areas and farmland, mountains, deserts, polar tundra, and rocky cliffs are all places where they dwell.
Not only do many different species use these varied habitats, but individual species can also adapt to a variety of different situations.
Differences in mating and reproduction
Grackles and crows have certain similarities and variances when it comes to mating and reproduction. Let’s look at how these bird’s mating and reproduction systems function to learn more about them:
Grackles: Mating and reproduction
The majority of grackles are monogamous for a single season, but some exceptions can also be seen practicing polygamy.
The mating season of Grackles:
The breeding of grackles takes place once a year, between the months of March and July. Grackles are normally single-brooded, but in some regions, they can double-brood as well.
The male grackles are the ones that initiate courtship behavior. These rituals begin after they arrive and continue throughout the spring. One to three males trail a female, their tails folded into a “V” form resembling a boat’s keel.
According to aerodynamics, the V shape minimizes lift while increasing drag. The fact that female grackles do not fold their tails into severe V’s like their male counterparts adds to the argument that this shape is inefficient.
Extreme tail-folding during mating flights shows that the tail position is a signal, and recent breakthroughs in animal signaling theory provide a reasonable explanation for this male behavior.
The number of males following a female reduces as the mating and wooing season progresses until there is only one male for every female.
Potential partners travel together and put on shows for one another. After forming a breeding pair, a male and female will leave the flock to fly and sing together.
Once a mating pair has been established, the male remains extremely close to their mate. They are always close by, perching beside their partner, following them around.
This is most likely done by males to keep other males from mating with their partners. However, they tend to stop guarding their mates once the eggs have been laid.
What happens next?
When the mating period is over, the female lays between one-seven eggs (usually 5 to 6). These smooth eggs are commonly pale blue to pearl grey in color. Some, especially at the bigger end, have blackish-brown stains, while others are clean.
The nesting location is usually chosen by the female, that does it right after they have found a partner. In some cases, they might choose a place ahead of time.
The eggs are incubated for 12-14 days by the female. The male and female of a pair communicate during incubation by calling to each other and conducting displays. During incubation, many males forsake their mates and do not return to assist in raising the babies.
Crow: mating & reproduction
Crows are cooperatively breeding birds that are socially monogamous. Mated pairs produce big groups of up to 15 individuals that stay together for many years, spanning numerous breeding seasons. Typically, offspring from a previous nesting season also stays with the family to help rear the newborn nestlings.
The mating season of Crows:
Crow’s breeding season can vary greatly according to the individual species and geographical location. Generally, it takes place between March and August, with a second period occurring between October and December.
Crows, unlike many other birds, do not sing loudly to attract mates from afar. Instead, they use a rich blend of gentle cooing, rattles, growls, bowing gestures, and mutual nuzzling to sing softly—and at close range—during courting.
Crow’s mating activities take place on the ground. The male crow makes a courtship display by fluffing his body feathers and facing the female. Then he opens his wings and tail slightly and bows repeatedly while singing a short rattling song.
When a male and female have mated, they may perch together and preen each other’s feathers. Because they mate for life, this behavior may not be witnessed very often. Courtship displays are rarely seen in pairs who have already mated.
If a pair is unable to reproduce, they will split up and return to their families.
What happens next?
After mating, the female crow lays 3 to 7 bluish-green eggs with brown markings. The female does the most of the incubation alone, with the male standing nearby and occasionally feeding them. Their incubation period lasts for 18 days, after which their eggs hatch.
The fledglings will depart the nest at the age of five weeks. After they leave the nest, their parents will continue to feed them for a while. Each year, there is only one brood. They might try to re-nest if their first brood is disrupted. And if their initial effort at mating and nesting fails, young males will return to their parents.
Differences in their diet
We acknowledge that grackles’ and crows’ diets are similar due to the fact that they generally have access to the same food sources in their habitat.
Before we begin, it is important to keep in mind that they are both omnivores. Now, let’s look at their diet in more detail.
What do grackles eat?
We know it well that grackles are omnivorous. They feed on seeds, particularly agricultural grains such as corn and rice. Other seeds that are a part of their diet include sunflower seeds, acorns, tree seeds such as sweetgum, wild and cultivated fruits, and garbage.
During summer, a quarter of a grackle’s diet might come from beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, spiders, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, frogs, salamanders, mice, and other birds.
What do crows eat?
Crows are omnivores, so they eat almost everything. They consume tiny mammals, amphibians, reptiles, eggs, and carrion, among other things. Insects, seeds, grains, nuts, berries, non-insect arthropods, mollusks, worms, and even other birds are all eaten by them.
With this, we come to the end of our article. Above, we learned about all aspects of these birds’ lives, such as their appearance, vocalization, habitats, diet, and mating and nesting behaviors.
While these birds might appear to be similar when you look at them at first, upon closer examination, you will learn how different they are from one another. Crows are generally larger and duller than the grackles and display very little sexual dimorphism, unlike the latter, which are highly dimorphic.
Apart from their physical description, you can also differentiate between these birds using their vocalization and mating behavior. The next time you spot these pesky creatures on your feeders, you’ll know exactly what you’re dealing with by being able to identify them easily.