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.
Common Grackle perched on a branch
European Starling close up
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. Starlings are also not native to just the United States.
When it comes down to length, grackles can reaches lengths of up to 20 inches, whereas starlings generally only reach lengths of up to 12 inches. Grackles also have longer tails than starlings, the tail of a starling is usually shorter than their bodies with no patterns or visible markings. Grackle tails are sometimes as long as the bird is tall and in flight show an orange patch.
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 in winter plumage
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.
Yes, when nesting season is over, both starlings and grackles are known to occasionally flock together. Which can make identification much more confusing.
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.
Common Grackle perched in a tree
European Starling on the ground