Grackle vs. Crow: What’s the Difference?

Grackle vs crow

Have you ever spotted a black bird in your backyard and wondered if it’s a grackle or a crow? With their glossy black feathers, these birds are a common sight, but they’re not as similar as they seem.

Grackles are slender, more iridescent, and produce various sounds, including squeaks and whistles. Meanwhile, crows are larger, with broader wings and all-black feathers, and are known for their loud cawing. Grackles also have pale yellow eyes, while crows’ eyes are dark.

In this article, we’ll explore these differences in detail. We’ll look at everything, from their physical features to their habits and vocalizations, to give you a clearer picture of these two fascinating bird species.

Summary of Grackle vs. Crow

Grackle bird perched in the forestCrow feeding at low tide
Common in North America, found in various habitats, including open forests, woodlands, marshes, and urban areas.
Widespread across the world, adaptable to various environments, including rural and urban areas.
11–13 in (28–34 cm)
16–21 in (40–53 cm)
2.6–5 oz (74–142 g)
11.2–22 oz (316–620 g)
Iridescent black feathers with hues of purple, green, or blue and pale yellow eyes
Less iridescent all-black plumage, larger bills, and black eyes
High-pitched whistles, squeaks, and croaks
High-pitched caws, rattles, and clicks
Flight Speed:
20–39 mph
Flight Speed:
25–35 mph
Social Behavior:
Highly social, often seen in large flocks
Social Behavior:
Social birds, often seenin pairs or small groups
Intelligent, shows adaptability and resourcefulness
Highly intelligent, known for their excellent memory, problem-solving skills, and tool use
Omnivorous: insects, seeds, grains, berries, small fish, and sometimes other birds’ eggs
Omnivorous: insects, seeds, fruit, carrion, small animals, and human leftovers
Clutch size of 2-6 eggs, with colors ranging from light blue and pearl gray to brown, with dark blotches
Clutch size of 3-9 eggs, olive-green or blue-green with black or brown blotches
Up to 22 years
Up to 8 years
Often associated with courage, boldness, and resourcefulness
Social Behavior:
Social birds, often seen in pairs or small groups

Key Differences Between Grackles and Crows

Despite some superficial similarities, grackles and crows have unique characteristics that set them apart. Below are some of these differences to help you identify them more easily.

1. Habitat and Distribution

A murder of crows perched on tree

Though both are common in North America, grackles and crows differ notably in their habitats and distribution.

Grackles are primarily found east of the Rocky Mountains, favoring wet, open woodlands, marshes, and human-altered landscapes like suburbs and farmlands.

On the other hand, crows have more species and, as a result, a much broader global distribution. They are highly adaptable and can live in almost any habitat except for extreme conditions like tundra.

In North America, crows are common in both rural and urban settings, including wilderness, farmland, parks, open woodlands, and major cities.

2. Size and Weight

Common grackle perched on a branch in spring

Grackles are about half the size of crows. They’re about 11 to 13 inches long with wings that stretch out to around 14 to 18 inches across.

When it comes to weight, grackles are relatively light, weighing between 2.6 and 5 ounces.

In contrast, crows are noticeably bigger. They usually measure between 16 and 21 inches in length, which includes a significant tail length. Their wingspan is even more impressive, reaching 33 to 39 inches wide.

Crows are also heavier, weighing in at 11.2 to 22 ounces. This size difference is quite noticeable, especially when these birds are seen up close or in flight.

3. Physical Appearance

Crow perched on a branch on a cold winter

Grackles and crows might both be black birds, but they look pretty different when you see them up close.

Grackles are the slimmer ones with notably long tails. Their heads are flat, and they have a longer bill than most blackbirds, with a slight downward curve.

One striking feature of grackles is their iridescent feathers, which can shimmer with purple, green, or blue hues, especially in sunlight. Grackles also have pale yellow eyes that stand out against their dark plumage.

Crows, on the other hand, are larger and stockier. They’re all black, from their feathers to their legs and beak.

Their feathers can appear glossy and slightly iridescent in bright light, sometimes giving off a deep purple sheen. But they don’t have the same colorful shine as grackles.

Unlike grackles, crows have dark brown to black eyes, which blend in with their overall black appearance.

4. Vocalizations

Grackle standing on wood fence

Grackles are pretty noisy birds. They make all sorts of sounds, like squeaks, whistles, and croaks.

Both male and female grackles sing, and their typical song sounds like a guttural “readle-eak” accompanied by high-pitched, clear whistles.

If you’ve ever heard a grackle, you might think it sounds like a rusty gate opening and closing.

Crows, on the other hand, can make more than 20 different types of sounds, so they’re pretty chatty in their own way. But what they’re really known for is their loud “caw-caw” sound. It’s not a pretty song, but it’s very recognizable.

Listening to crows in our neighborhood, I noticed they also have this thing called a “subsong,” which is a mixture of hoarse or grating coos, caws, rattles, and clicks.

These sequences can last for several minutes, kind of like they’re having a long, rambling conversation.

5. Flight Speed

Crow flying in nature

Grackles typically fly at speeds up to 39 miles per hour. They’re known for their straight, direct flight path with stiff wingbeats. This speed is very impressive, especially considering their size.

Meanwhile, crows fly at an average speed of 25 to 35 miles per hour in normal conditions. However, with the help of a strong tailwind, they can reach speeds up to 60 miles per hour.

Crows are also capable of diving at higher speeds, potentially reaching up to 70 miles per hour. This makes them not only fast but also agile in the air.

6. Intelligence and Behavior

Grackle looking for food for the young

Grackles are generally considered smarter than the average bird. They possess problem-solving skills and can adjust to different situations, which is quite impressive for bird species.

A study focusing on the Great-tailed Grackle showed just how clever they are. In tests where they had to associate colors with hidden food, they were quick to figure out which colored tube had food in it.

This ability to adapt and learn quickly shows that they have a notable level of behavioral flexibility among birds.

If you want to see their intelligence in action, check out the video below:

Great-tailed grackle behavioral flexibility and problem solving

That being said, when compared to birds like crows, grackles are not quite at the same level of intelligence.

Crows are often seen as one of the smartest bird species. Their problem-solving skills, tool use, and understanding of complex concepts are well-documented.

Crows have large forebrains, similar to those found in primates, which contribute to their advanced intelligence. They also have complex ways of communicating and behaving that show just how intelligent they are.

Fun Fact: Crows are not only smart, but they also have an incredible memory for human faces. If a crow has a negative encounter with someone, it can remember that person and even teach other crows to recognize and react to them.

So, if you ever encounter a crow, it’s a good idea to be nice – they won’t forget it!

7. Diet and Feeding Habits

American crow perched on driftwood with a chiton

While different in many ways, grackles and crows share similarities in their diets and feeding habits. Both are omnivorous, meaning they eat a variety of foods from both plant and animal sources.

Grackles have a diverse diet that includes insects like beetles, grasshoppers, and caterpillars, as well as spiders, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, and frogs.

They also eat a significant amount of plant-based foods, such as seeds, grains, and berries. But during certain times, particularly in the summer, their diet leans more towards animal-based food.

Similarly, crows have a very adaptable diet. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat almost anything they can find, including insects, fruits, small animals, carrion, and human leftovers.

Like grackles, crows feed mostly on the ground and sometimes in trees. Aside from being omnivorous, they are also scavengers, a group of birds that feed on dead animals and waste.

This scavenging behavior is a crucial part of their survival, especially in urban areas where such food sources are more abundant.

Fun Fact: Crows are ingenious when it comes to cracking open tough food items. They’ve been observed dropping nuts and other hard objects from great heights to break them open.

In urban areas, they take advantage of traffic to help crack open nuts by placing them on roads and waiting for passing cars to do the work.

If you’re curious to see this incredible behavior in action, don’t miss the video below:

Smart Crow uses cars to crack nuts in Akita, Japan near Senshu Park

8. Nests and Eggs

Grackle eggs in their nest

Grackles typically build their nests using materials like grass, twigs, reeds, and mud, lining the inside with finer materials for comfort. You can find their nests in shrubs or trees, usually 3 to 30 feet above the ground or water.

These birds usually lay around 2 to 6 eggs per clutch. These eggs can be of different colors, ranging from light blue and pearl gray to brown, and they have dark blotches on them.

The female grackle incubates these eggs for 12 to 14 days. Sometimes, the male grackle might leave to find another mate, but it often comes back to help feed the baby birds once they’re born.

Crows, on the other hand, are pretty creative when it comes to where they build their nests. They can set up their homes in all sorts of places, from tree branches to the edges of tall buildings.

Their nests are larger and made from sticks and other materials they find, and they’re usually well-hidden to keep them safe.

A crow’s clutch typically consists of 3 to 9 eggs, which are pale bluish-green to olive green with blotches of brown and gray towards the larger end.

The female crow incubates the eggs slightly longer than the grackle, around 16 to 18 days, with the male staying close by to help bring food.

9. Lifespan

American crow putting a stick in a trash can

Grackles can live up to 22 years in the wild, with an average lifespan of about 17 years. This is quite long for bird species in North America and speaks to their resilience and ability to thrive in various environments.

In contrast, crows generally have a shorter lifespan in the wild, averaging around 7 to 8 years. However, when in captivity, crows can live much longer, sometimes up to 30 years.

10. Cultural and Symbolic Significance

Common grackle perched on tree branch

Grackles are often seen as symbols of courage and boldness. In some Native American cultures, they represent fearlessness and adaptability and are admired for their ability to thrive in diverse environments.

Meanwhile, crows have a more varied symbolic presence across cultures. In many Western traditions, crows are often linked with death, mystery, and the unknown.

This association comes partly from their black plumage and the fact that they are scavengers, often seen around carcasses. However, in many cultures, crows are also seen as symbols of transformation and change.

For instance, in Native American mythology, the crow is often portrayed as a trickster or a shape-shifter, embodying transformation.

Further, in some Eastern cultures, crows are revered as ancestors or protectors, guiding souls in the afterlife.

Fun Fact: Grackles might be seen as pests now, but the Aztecs actually loved them! The Aztec ruler Ahuitzotl liked these birds so much that he brought them to his capital and even called them “divine grackles.”

How to Tell Them Apart

The first thing to look at when telling apart grackles and crows is their size. Crows are generally larger than grackles. They’re about twice as big, with broader wings and larger beaks.

Their coloring sets them apart as well. Grackles have iridescent feathers that can display hues of blue, purple, or green in sunlight. Crows, however, are uniformly black with less shimmer.

Moreover, their vocalizations are distinct. Grackles are known for being pretty noisy birds, producing a range of sounds, including squeaks, whistles, and croaks.

In contrast, crows are recognized for their loud, guttural cawing that’s hard to miss.

I remember when I was young, I used to see these birds around our neighborhood. My father told me that the best way to tell them apart was by looking at their eyes.

Grackles usually have pale yellow eyes, whereas crows have dark brown or black eyes. It’s a handy trick I still use today when I spot these birds in our area.

Frequently Asked Questions

American crow holds a mouthful of french fries in its bill

Are Grackles Related to Crows?

Grackles and crows are not closely related. Grackles belong to the Icteridae family, known for blackbirds. Meanwhile, crows are part of the Corvidae family, which includes ravens and jays. Their similarities are superficial.

Do Crows and Grackles Get Along?

Crows and grackles usually get along pretty well. They often share foraging areas and tolerate each other’s presence. Both of them are good at adapting to their surroundings and finding their own space to live.

While there may be occasional squabbles over food, they tend to peacefully share their habitats.

Are Grackles Smart?

Grackles are indeed smart birds. They are known for their problem-solving abilities and clever foraging techniques.

For example, great-tailed grackles can solve Aesop’s Fable tests, where they drop stones into water to raise the level and reach a treat. This shows that grackles have more going on in their brains than one might initially think.

Now, the next time you spot a grackle or crow, you’ll know which bird is which. If you have any questions or want to share your observations about these birds, feel free to leave a comment below!

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