Grackle Vs. Starling Vs. Blackbird: What’s The Difference?

Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher or a casual observer, chances are you’ve come across bird species that are challenging to tell apart. Grackles, starlings, and blackbirds are three such species, as they are all dark in color, migratory, and extremely widespread. So, how can you tell these birds apart? Keep reading as we compare and contrast the grackle vs. the starling vs. the blackbird.

What Is a Grackle?

What Is a Grackle?

A grackle is a type of black bird common throughout North America. The grackle family contains 10 species of migratory birds. 

These birds are dark in color. The males often have shimmery heads and necks, displaying shades of iridescent green, blue, purple, or gold in the light; females are typically more drab and brownish.

Grackles often fly together in large flocks during migration–and not just with other grackles. They may also flock with black birds belonging to other species. 

Grackles lay 2-6 eggs each spring; the eggs are light blue in color splotched with brown. The females do all of the incubating, but both parents feed the young after they hatch. 

Grackles typically nest in colonies of 30 or so mating pairs. These colonies will then group together during migration. 

Grackles move to warmer, southern areas of North America during the winter before returning to their northern breeding grounds when the weather warms up.

What is a Starling?

What is a Starling?

A starling is a pretty passerine bird found primarily in North America and Europe, but also in parts of Asia and Africa. Like grackles, starlings are migratory. 

These birds are generally gray to black in color but dotted with white; their head, neck, and chest areas are beautifully iridescent. Sometimes they display bright colors all over, though females are typically brown.

In terms of overall appearance, starlings are very similar to grackles, only they are smaller, and their white markings make them appear dusted with snow.

Starlings will fly in flocks during migration, sometimes flocking with birds of other species. Even outside of migration, they sometimes form large flocks for protection; they have been observed flying high enough to interfere with the movements of aircraft.

Starlings lay 4-7 eggs per brood and typically have two broods per year. Both parents incubate the eggs and feed the young. 

What is a Blackbird?

What is a Blackbird

There are various types of blackbirds belonging to different species. These migratory birds can be found throughout the world.

For the purpose of this article, we will be referring to the Turdidae family of blackbirds, which includes the common blackbird

This family of birds are typically jet black with no iridescence, though females may be dark brown or gray. Both sexes display large, bright yellow or orange beaks and distinctive yellow eye rings.

These blackbirds are known for grouping together in vast flocks which can number in the millions. They often migrate together with other bird species.

Blackbirds lay 3-5 eggs; the eggs are a light blue-green and splotchy, similar to grackle eggs. Also like grackles, the female incubates the eggs, whereas both parents feed the young. 

Grackle vs. Starling vs. Blackbird: Similarities and Differences

As you can probably tell from the above descriptions, these three birds have many similarities as well as some notable differences. Let’s take a look at some of those things which connect them as well as ways you can tell them apart.


Though grackles, starlings, and blackbirds are all classified as passerine birds, each of them belong to a different scientific family. 

  • Grackles belong to the Icteridae family.
  • Starlings are found in the Sturnidae family.
  • Many blackbirds, including the common blackbird, are members of the Turdidae family.

So, while these birds may share similar physical characteristics and coloring, they are not closely related to each other.


All three types of birds are strikingly similar in appearance, and if you didn’t get a good look at them, you might not be able to tell them apart. However, they do have physical differences as well.

  • Grackles, as noted, are iridescent black, though females are more brown and less shiny. These birds have large yellow to whitish eyes and dark, curved, cone-shaped beaks. They are the largest of the three birds, growing up to 20 inches long.
  • Starlings are perhaps the prettiest of these birds; they are often black or gray, with green or blue iridescent chests, white speckles, and long, thin, pointy beaks. Sometimes they are brightly colored. They typically grow around 8 to 12 inches long.
  • Blackbirds are all black, but like grackles, the females are more brownish; neither one is shiny. They have yellow rings around their dark eyes and bright yellow beaks. They are the smallest of these three birds, growing to around 8 inches long.

So, the size of each bird can help you tell them apart. An iridescent bird with white speckles would likely be a starling; one with iridescence but no speckles would be a grackle; and one without iridescence or speckles, but with a bright yellow beak, would be a blackbird. 


All three types of birds behave similarly in terms of migration and flocking habits. Let’s take a closer look:

  • Grackles group together in large flocks that may number more than a million. They are migratory and often travel together with other migrating black birds.
  • Starlings typically create the smallest flocks, but their flocks can still be disruptive at times. They often migrate with grackles and blackbirds.
  • Blackbirds tend to form the largest flocks during migration. Sometimes these flocks also consist of other types of black birds, including grackles and starlings.

It is easy to see why telling these birds apart can be challenging–especially considering their tendency to migrate together. 


These three types of birds all share similar habitats. They may be found in urban and residential areas, agricultural fields, woodlands, streamsides, etc. 

All three species are incredibly widespread in the United States and are not afraid of being around people.


All three of these birds have the same diet: they are omnivores that aren’t picky. Some of the foods they enjoy best include:

  • Insects
  • Frogs, fish, tadpoles
  • Seeds and acorns
  • Waste grains
  • Berries and vegetables

Bird Calls

One of the best ways to tell these birds apart is to listen to their bird calls, which are each distinct and unique. 

  • Grackles are loud and obnoxious, making high-pitched whistling and chirping noises that have been compared to the sound of a creaky gate. Have a listen:
  • Starlings produce a high-pitched chirping sound similar to that of a grackle, though not as loud; sometimes it is accompanied by a squawking noise, as you can hear in the below video:
  • Blackbirds produce the prettiest song of all three birds; they often sing together, producing pleasant, harmonic chirping. Listen to the music below:


Grackles, starlings, and blackbirds all belong to different bird families, but they have many similarities. Some of their notable differences are the songs they produce, their size, and their color patterns.

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