You notice a group of black birds foraging for food in your yard. You may be tempted to think they are crows, but are they really? After all, there are many different kinds of black birds. In this article, we’ll compare two of these, the grackle vs. the crow, discussing their similarities and differences to help you learn to tell them apart.
What You'll Learn Today
What is a Grackle?
Grackles are blackbirds found throughout much of the United States and Canada. There are several different species of grackle, though most are dark brown or black with shimmery colors on their head, neck, and back feathers.
Grackles are highly social creatures, often flocking together in large groups of hundreds and even thousands of birds, especially while migrating. They can live in a variety of environments and appear just as at home in urban areas as they do in the wild.
Grackles eat a wide variety of foods including nuts, seeds, insects, berries, and even small animals such as frogs and small birds. They are opportunistic eaters and can sometimes be seen snacking on bits of human food in grocery store and fast food parking lots.
Some grackles will migrate to warmer climates during the winter, while others will stay in the same place year-round.
Check out this video to learn more about grackles:
What is a Crow?
Crows are also found throughout much of the United States and parts of Canada. As with grackles, there are various species of crow, and not all of them look the same, though most are dark to black in color.
Crows will sometimes live and travel in groups, though they tend to be less social than grackles and their groups tend to be smaller. Still, they will sometimes create nesting communities where they work together to build nests and raise young.
Crows also live in a variety of environments, both urban and rural. They can be found everywhere from deserts to forests to wetlands, in cities as well as regions uninhabited by humans.
Crows eat many different foods including seeds, nuts, earthworms, insects, and spiders. They will forage for food both on the ground and up in trees.
Some crows, especially those living in cold northern regions, will migrate south for the winter. Others, especially those already living in the south, stay in one area year-round.
Check out this video to learn more about crows:
Grackle Vs. Crow: Similarities and Differences
- Coloring: Both crows and grackles may come in different colors, such as brown, dark gray, and even white. But most grackles and crows are black in color, with shiny feathers that reflect the sunlight.
- Distribution and habitat: Both crows and grackles are widely distributed throughout the United States and Canada–they are both very common birds. They can also both live in many different habitats and seem pretty comfortable living close to human populations.
- Diet: Both grackles and crows have similar diets, as they both eat a variety of plant foods as well as insects.
- Scientific families: Despite some similarities in appearance and behavior, crows and grackles don’t belong to the same class of birds. Crows belong to the family Corvidae, while grackles belong to the family Icteridae.
- Size: One of the most noticeable differences between grackles and crows is their size difference. Grackles can grow up to about a foot in length, while some species of crows will grow as large as two and a half feet long.
- Social behavior: Though crows and grackles are both social birds, grackles are the more social of the two. There are times when crows are much more solitary and do not flock together with other birds.
- Appearance: Though they are both black birds with black beaks and talons, grackles and crows have some striking differences in appearance if you know what to look for.
Crows have longer, larger beaks than grackles, and their eyes are typically black while most grackles have bright yellow eyes. Grackles tend to have shimmery blue, violet, green, or yellow feathers on their head and neck, while crows are a shimmery but solid black.
- Song: Crows and grackles sound very different from each other. Crows produce a distinctive and highly recognizable “caw, caw!” sound, while grackles produce a series of calls and whistles that is often described as sounding like the creaking of a rusty gate.
How to Tell a Grackle Apart From a Crow
If you see a black bird in your yard and you’re wondering whether it’s a crow or a grackle, look for the following:
- Size: Crows will look noticeably large when compared with other birds, and they may chase away other birds in the area. Grackles, on the other hand, will look similar in size to robins, bluejays, and other common birds.
- Black or multicolored? Both crows and grackles look shiny in the sunlight, but grackles will tend to have more iridescent colors to offset their black coloring. Crows do not have this iridescence.
- Eyes: As noted above, crows usually have black eyes (juvenile crows have blue eyes). While a few species of grackle also have black eyes, most only have black pupils surrounded by striking yellow irises.
- Bird call: Listen for the classic-sounding “caw” noises produced by crows. If you don’t hear them, then it’s more likely that the black birds you’ve been seeing in your area are grackles.
- Flocking: If you notice a particularly large group of black birds hanging out in your area, they are probably grackles. If the group is smaller, they may be crows.
Crows and grackles are both black birds that are found widely throughout North America, and they can be easy to confuse if you aren’t familiar with the differences between them.
That said, crows are generally much larger than grackles, don’t have the colorful iridescent feathers many grackles have, and have completely black eyes that look much different from the yellow eyes of the grackle.