Grackle vs starling: two intriguing species of birds that you might find sharing your backyard or local park. As you learn more about them, you’ll discover that despite their similarities, they have quite a few differences that make them distinct.
While both birds are known for their striking appearance and distinctive calls, grackles feature iridescent blue and purple plumage, while starlings display a more speckled, glossy coat. Additionally, you’ll find that these two birds’ social behaviors and diets also set them apart.
Common Grackle Overview
Physical Characteristics: Grackle vs Starling
Common Grackles are medium-sized birds with sleek bodies, long tails, and a strong, straight bill. Both have iridescent feathers that shimmer in shades of blue, green, brown, black, and purple in the sunlight.
Plus their colors are why you’ll find them on our list of blue and black birds. The standard type you’ll encounter is the Common Grackle, which can grow up to 13 inches long.
- Bright yellow eyes
- Brownish feathers, but they can also appear all one color from a distance
- Less iridescent colors
- Long tail and long legs
- The legs are darker in color than a Starlings
- Less glossy than male Grackles
- Lots of iridescent colors, from blue to purple to green to bronze
- Iridescent colors but no spots like the Starling
- From a distance, they can appear to be all-black
- Long legs and long tail
- The bluish iridescent head, especially if you are viewing them in bright light
- The legs are darker in color than a Starlings
Habitat and Distribution (Grackle vs Starling)
You can find these birds throughout various environments, including woodlands, marshes, parks, fields, and urban areas. They’re adaptable!
Grackles are usually found across North America, from the mid-Atlantic states in the United States to Newfoundland to the southern Gulf Coast.
Grackle Migration habits
The Grackles will arrive at these Northern destinations in the spring and migrate in the fall. However, some Grackles will hold out and overwinter in a location.
These birds often congregate with other black birds, like the starlings and cowbirds. So, this is primarily why some folks confuse the grackles and starlings.
Nesting Habits of Grackles vs Starlings
Grackles prefer to use nests built with bulky sticks. They’ll often make them high up but forage around on the ground. The Grackles will usually live in large colonies.
Additionally, each bird will lay around five pale blue eggs. Lastly, a Grackle can have 1-2 broods per year.
Diet and Feeding Behavior of Common Grackles
Grackles have a diverse diet comprising insects, small fish, frogs, small mammals, seeds, grains, and fruits.
Since they’ll even occasionally eat small birds and rodents, they are true omnivores. You’ll often see them foraging on the ground or picking food from shallow water.
In urban settings, they may go after food in trash cans and unattended picnic tables, so watch your food outdoors!
Starling Overview – Starling vs Grackle
Physical Characteristics of Starlings vs Grackles
European Starlings are medium-sized birds around 8.5 inches in length. Interestingly, their feathers will become more iridescent and reminiscent of the Grackles during the breeding season. They’ll be brown, white, green, and spotted when they are in the non-breeding season.
The Starlings are ubiquitous backyard birds. Learn more in our guide about how to attract Starlings to your yard.
Additionally, they have a distinctive stocky build, short tails, and triangular-shaped wings. In contrast, the Grackles have long tails and long legs.
Their plumage can be a beautiful mix of dark, iridescent colors that shimmer in sunlight. Starlings have a pointed bill, perfect for catching insects and picking fruit.
Another exciting feature is that they’ll gather in humongous, noisy flocks during the non-breeding season with other birds like Grackles and Cowbirds.
- Adults have bright yellow bills as breeding season approaches: see more black birds with yellow beaks
- Juveniles have Brownish feathers with spots
- Female Starlings will look similar to the males but slightly duller
- They’ll have more spots on their feathers
- Unlike the Grackle, they have a short square tail
- The legs are lighter in color than a Grackles
- Adults have bright yellow bills with a blueish hue at the base
- Feathers are glossy and black with a blue and green sheen
- Unlike the Grackle, they have a short square tail
- The legs are lighter in color than a Grackles
Habitat and Distribution of Starlings vs Grackles
One of the reasons you’re likely to encounter starlings is because they are highly adaptable creatures. They thrive in various habitats, from urban areas, woods, to grasslands.
Starlings from Europe and Asia were introduced to North America and have spread rapidly across the continent.
You can now find them worldwide; don’t be surprised if you spot one in your local park. Starlings are one of the popular NYC birds!
Starling Migration habits
Starlings will migrate to more favorable areas in large flocks when resources die down. Furthermore, starlings migrate for several reasons, primarily to escape cooler temperatures and find a warmer climate. These migrations typically occur towards the end of summer, around August or September.
The northern breeding territories of starlings become less favorable regarding resources and weather conditions during the colder months, prompting them to travel to areas with more abundant resources. Migration allows starlings to access better food sources and nesting opportunities.
The direction of migration is genetically determined, and starlings will colonize new areas rapidly from east to west.
Additionally, the phenomenon of Starling murmurations, where large flocks create mesmerizing aerial displays, often coincides with their migration period.
This behavior is commonly seen around October when they gather in large numbers before continuing their journey.
Nesting Habits of Starlings vs Grackles
Starlings will choose a high nest site in a cavity, from a birdhouse to a crevice in a building to a tree cavity.
Additionally, each bird will lay around 3-6 bluish-white or greenish-white eggs. Lastly, a Starling can have 1-2 broods per year. But just like the Grackle, they’ll probably only have one.
Diet and Feeding Behavior of Starlings
While Starlings have diverse eating habits that help them survive in various environments, they love eating insects. Since they primarily eat insects, fruit, seeds, and bird eggs, they are omnivores.
Their feeding behavior consists of probing the ground with their beak for food. You’ll also notice them visiting birdfeeders, especially when food is scarce during colder months. Adaptability is genuinely what makes starlings an exciting species.
Similarities between Grackles and Starlings
You might notice that grackles and starlings share various traits and can be easily confused with one another. Let’s explore some of the similarities between these fascinating bird species.
Firstly, you’ll find that grackles and starlings are medium-sized birds with similar body shapes. This resemblance can make them difficult to distinguish, especially at a distance.
Additionally, both species have strong legs and feet, which enable them to exhibit impressive agility while walking and hopping on the ground or perching on branches.
In terms of habitat, grackles and starlings are pretty adaptable. These birds can thrive in a range of environments, including city parks, suburban neighborhoods, and agricultural areas. As a result, you might encounter these birds in your backyard or local green space, often mixing happily in search of food.
Speaking of food, grackles and starlings have diverse diets. Both birds eat a variety of items such as insects, seeds, small mammals, and fruit, which allows them to be resourceful and skillful foragers.
You might observe them feeding in small groups or larger gatherings, particularly during migration or breeding season.
Another similarity between these two species is their gregarious and sometimes aggressive nature. It’s common to see them socializing and getting aggressive with one another, often in mixed flocks.
Don’t be surprised if you hear their vocalizations, as both grackles and starlings are known for their distinct calls and songs.
Differences between Grackles and Starlings
Size: Grackle VS Starling
But Starlings are smaller birds, with Starlings being only 8.5 inches in length, whereas the Grackles have a longer body, generally at 12.5 inches.
You can quickly notice differences in size and appearance when observing Grackles and Starlings. Grackles are generally more prominent, with a body length of 11-14 inches, while Starlings are about 8-9 inches long.
In terms of color, Grackles have an iridescent blackish-blue plumage, especially on the head and neck, with a distinctive long tail. On the other hand, Starlings have glossy dark feathers with a greenish-purple sheen and display white speckles during winter.
The Starlings have shorter tails and possess a yellow bill in the breeding season, which turns dark in winter.
Wingspan: Grackle VS Starling
Be mindful that the Starling wingspan measures 16 inches compared to the Grackles, whose clock is 17 inches. So, if you are looking at them from a distance in flight, you may confuse the two.
Legs: Grackles VS Starlings
Additionally, more differences are that Starlings have lighter-colored tannish legs, whereas the Grackles have darker-colored legs.
Vocalizations: Grackle VS Starling
Both species have their unique vocalizations. Grackles are famous for their piercing, creaky calls that may sound harsh to your ears. They often use these noises to communicate with other Grackles in their group.
In contrast, Starlings are natural mimics known for their chirps and warbles. They can imitate many bird species and even human-produced sounds like car alarms and telephones.
Social Behavior: Grackles VS Starlings
Grackles and starlings have distinct social behaviors. Grackles are known for their aggressive behavior, often engaging in raucous chattering and loud vocalizations in flocks. They may attack other grackles and bird species by biting and pecking.
On the other hand, starlings exhibit more gregarious (but can also be aggressive) behavior, forming large flocks and engaging in synchronized movements known as murmurations.
These aerial displays can involve both Grackles and Starlings. Furthermore, they are mesmerizing to witness and serve as a form of social cohesion among starlings and other black-birds.
While both species display social and somewhat aggressive tendencies, their specific behaviors regarding aggression and flock dynamics differ.
Impact on Ecosystem and Human Interaction
Role in Ecosystem: Starlings VS Grackles
Both grackles and starlings play essential roles in ecosystems. As omnivorous birds, they eat various foods, which helps control insect and plant populations.
For instance, grackles eat insects that can harm crops, while starlings consume pests like beetles and caterpillars. Remember that while they can be beneficial, sometimes they also contribute negatively to ecosystems.
Despite some drawbacks, these birds (especially Grackles) play a part in the food web as prey for predators like hawks or owls. In this way, they support the balance of their habitats and directly impact the well-being of their ecosystem.
Nuisance and Control Measures: Starlings VS Grackles
While you may appreciate their roles in ecosystems, Grackles and Starlings can also be a nuisance. On one University of Texas campus, some aggressive Grackles were attacking a variety of students. Read the story here.
Due to their aggressive behavior and large flock sizes, they can outcompete and displace native birds for resources like food and nesting sites. Additionally, their droppings and noise can be unpleasant in urban environments.
To control populations of these birds and reduce their negative impact, you can take the following measures:
- Habitat modification: Altering your surroundings, like removing bird feeders and covering trash bins, can discourage these birds from settling near your home.
- Exclusion methods: Installing bird netting or spikes can prevent grackles and starlings from roosting on your property.
- Visual deterrents: Placing reflective tape or scare devices could discourage them from frequenting the area.
Remember, it is crucial to use non-lethal and humane control methods. As part of nature, grackles and starlings should be respected and allowed to exist within the balance of their ecosystems.
Conservation Status and Efforts
You might be curious about the conservation status of the Grackle and Starling species, as preserving these beautiful birds is essential.
Grackles are native to North America and are a species of most minor concern, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This means that their population is relatively stable and not facing any immediate threats.
On the other hand, Starlings are originally native to Europe and Asia but have been introduced to many other parts of the world, including North America. In some regions, their populations are declining due to habitat loss and fragmentation.
However, they are also listed as a species of most minor concern by the IUCN, as they have a large global population and are adaptable to various environments.
You can maintain the populations of both Grackles and Starlings by creating and preserving their preferred habitats. For Grackles, this includes:
- Wetlands and marshes
- Forest edges
- Agricultural fields
For Starlings, nesting boxes in urban and rural areas can help combat habitat loss. Public awareness campaigns can also contribute to protecting these birds by educating people on their importance in ecosystem balance.
You must be conscious of how to help preserve their habitat and keep a balanced ecosystem within your community.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the main differences between grackles and starlings?
Grackles and starlings are medium-sized birds but have some key differences. Grackles have longer tails and often appear more iridescent, with hues of blue and purple on their head and body. On the other hand, starlings have shorter tails and display a glossy, speckled appearance with shades of green and purple.
Additionally, Starlings have lighter-colored legs plus a yellow beak (during the breeding season), which Grackles do not.
How do their songs differ: Grackle vs Starling?
Grackles produce various sounds, ranging from harsh, guttural calls to melodic and whistle-like songs. Starlings are known for their extraordinary mimicry abilities, imitating the sounds of other birds, animals, and even human-made noises. Their typical vocalizing consists of clicks, whistles, and trills.
Do grackles and starlings have similar behavior?
Both grackles and starlings are social birds, often found in large groups called flocks or murmurations. They are known to be adaptable and thrive in various environments, including urban and suburban areas.
However, grackles are more likely to display aggressive behavior, especially towards other bird species, whereas starlings are less aggressive. But remember that during the breeding season, Starlings can also become aggressive.
Why are both grackles and starlings considered nuisance birds?
Grackles and starlings are often considered nuisance birds due to their large numbers, adaptability, and tendency to damage crops or gardens. Their flocks create noise and can sometimes be messy, particularly around trash cans and bird feeders.
What are some ways to deter grackles and starlings?
To deter grackles and starlings from your property, try using bird feeders designed to exclude these species, such as tube feeders with small perches. Make trash cans and compost bins less accessible to them by securing lids tightly. You can place reflective tape or plastic bird spikes on surfaces where they like to perch.
Are there any benefits to having grackles and starlings around?
Despite their reputation, grackles and starlings can be beneficial for the ecosystem. They help control insect populations and can disperse seeds, contributing to plant diversity. Additionally, their dynamic flocks and intricate songs can be fascinating to observe and appreciate.
Sources for the article on Grackle vs Starling:
National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds