European Starling or Common Grackle: how to tell the difference?

Posted on: 3 June 2021

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European Starling or Common Grackle: how to tell the difference?

European or Common Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) and Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) at a glance look extremely similar, which means identification can be an issue. We've put together this guide to highlight the differences between the species to help you tell them apart easier.

The most obvious differences between grackles and starlings are that starlings have dark eyes, pinkish legs and a short, slender yellow bill (breeding birds), whereas the common grackle has dark legs, dark bill and yellow eyes. Grackles are also generally larger than starlings and also have longer tails.

These are the best ways to tell the two apart, although there are more reasons - which we'll go into below.

European Starling or Common Grackle: how to tell the difference?

Common Grackle perched on a branch

European Starling or Common Grackle: how to tell the difference?

European Starling close up

Other differences

Common Grackles are native to the US and will eat just about anything - they do, however, love to eat crops (mainly corn). The bright, golden eyes these birds have, give them an expression of intent. Grackles also tend to travel in large, noisy groups. Females are similar to males but less glossy.

European Starlings mainly eat insects and seeds, and if you've ever had them at your feeders, you'll know how quickly they can clean them out. Starlings will also travel in groups but are generally quieter when compared to the grackle - they can also be noisy.

Common Grackle Call/Song

Christopher McPherson, XC638297. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/638297.

Common Starling Song

Ramya, XC610872. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/610872.

European Starling or Common Grackle: how to tell the difference?

European Starling in winter plumage

Similarities between the two

Both the common grackle and European starlings have a shimmering iridescent plumage. Starlings look more similar to the grackle whilst in their winter plumage, which they have black beaks, and their plumage becomes more spotted and less vibrant. The beaks are similar in length and shape, but starlings tend to have slightly longer and thinner bills.

They also tend to both flock in large groups, and to make identification matters even more confusing, when nesting season is over, both grackles and starlings are known to flock together.

Are Grackles and Starlings the same bird?

No, they are two different species of birds. Common Grackles are members of the Troupials and Allies family, and European Starlings are part of the Starling family.

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