Grackle or Crow: What Are The Differences?

Grackles and crows are remarkably similar in many ways. They’re dark, with sharp, pointed beaks, their calls are harsh and shrieking, and they both raid bird tables and chase away or even attack other birds. So, what are the differences between grackles and crows?

For starters, grackles and crows are not part of the same family and aren’t even related. Grackles are icterids and belong to the family Icteridae, whereas crows are corvids and belong to the family Corvidae. Grackles are related to blackbirds, cowbirds, and larks, and crows are related to ravens, magpies, and jays.

Crows are widely distributed and live across much of the world, whereas grackles live exclusively in the Americas. Grackles and crows are visually similar in some respects and share similar behaviors, but certainly aren’t related in any meaningful way.

Nevertheless, grackles and crows are frequently confused. Read on to learn everything about the differences between grackles and crows!

Common grackle

Common Grackle

American crow

American Crow

Which is bigger, a grackle or a crow?

Crows are nearly always bigger than grackles. There are many species of crows, and they range in size from the Little crow that measures around 35 to 45cm long, to the American crow, which measures around 40 to 55 cm long.

Grackles are smaller on average. The Common grackle measures around 28 to 34 cm (11 to 13 in) long, with wingspan of 36 to 46 cm (14 to 18 in). American crows have a wingspan up to 1m.

The Common grackle weighs 74 to 142 g (2.6 to 5.0 oz), whereas the American crow weighs 300 to 600 g (11 to 21 oz). The American crow dwarves the Common grackle in most cases.

That makes grackles smaller than most small crows and considerably smaller than an American crow. Grackles are more similarly sized to blackbirds than crows.

There are a few other larger grackles, such as the Great-tailed grackle, but these are still smaller than most species of crows.

Crows are generally always larger than Grackles

Crows are generally always larger than Grackles

Other differences between grackles and crows

Besides size, there are many other differences between grackles and crows:

Plumage

Virtually all crows are black or gray, or a combination of black and gray.

In contrast, some grackles are primarily black, including the Common grackle, but many have colorful parts. Examples include the Red-bellied grackle with a red stomach, and the Boat-tailed grackle, with blue segments on its abdomen.

Crows lack this color variation. In fact, jays are the only corvids that display many colors beyond black, white, and gray.

The Common grackle is predominantly black, but its head, neck, and chest shine with an iridescent blue that is particularly prominent in the males. Crows also have an iridescent shine, but this is more of a muted blue-green.

Close up of a perched Grackle

Close up of a perched Grackle

Eyes

Almost all adult crows have black eyes. Contrastingly, most species of grackles have lighter white, gray, or yellow eyes.

Young crows have blue-ish eyes, whereas young grackles usually have dark brown or black eyes.

Calls and vocalizations

Crows have a very distinctive harsh caw! call, as well as a few different harsh or coarse screeches and rattles.

Grackles are also not particularly melodic birds but have a wide range of whistles and clicking calls that are a bit more subtle than crow vocalizations. Both birds are pretty guttural, but grackles lack the classic caw of the crow.

American crow close up

American Crow close up

Grackle close up

Common Grackle close up

Diet

Grackles and crows share some similar behaviors. Both are omnivores, feeding on both plant foods, insects, and invertebrates of various kinds. Both birds also eat vertebrates, including rodents, small lizards, and other birds. Crows and grackles are both capable of being aggressive towards members of their own species or other birds, especially during the breeding season.

Moreover, both birds prefer to feed on the ground. Crows exhibit more scavenging behaviors, but grackles also scavenge meat scraps and human leftovers.

Grackles practice a strange feeding technique called “anting”, where they willingly allow ants to climb over their plumage. In some birds, this is a feeding technique, but for grackles, the formic acid released by the ants is thought to help the birds preen their feathers.

Crow with a turtle egg in its beak

Crow with a turtle egg in its beak

Migration

Additionally, both crows and grackles are largely gregarious, forming reasonably large flocks outside of the breeding season. However, Common grackles are migratory birds, and nearly always migrate within their Canadian eastern USA range. Almost all species of crows are only partially migratory.

Distribution

There are many more species of crows than grackles. The diverse Corvus genus occurs on practically every continent. In contrast, grackles only occur in the Americas, and there are fewer species.

In North America, the Common grackle is concentrated primarily in the east of Canada and the USA, east of the Rocky Mountains. The American crow occurs across most of North America but probably not as far north as the Common grackle. Both crows and grackles are found throughout Central and South America.

A Grackle eating a crayfish

A Grackle eating a crayfish

Intelligence

Crows are amongst the most intelligent of all birds (and animals in general). In fact, the entire Corvid family is considered highly intelligent.

Grackles aren’t slackers in that department either, and are considered pretty intelligent and resourceful too. However, crows are no doubt the more intelligent, intuitive, and inquisitive birds.

Lifespan

Crows and grackles have similar lifespans. Most crows live for around 4 to 7 years, but some have obtained the age of 22 years or more in the wild.

Grackles life for 6 to 8 years on average, with some reaching the age of 20 or more. Both are long-lived birds.

Perched American Crow calling

Perched American Crow calling

Breeding

Crows often form strong, lifelong monogamous pair bonds. In contrast, most grackles are only seasonally monogamous, forming new pair bonds each breeding season.

Systematics

As mentioned, grackles and crows belong to different families and are not related. Both are passerine birds, but grackles belong to the Icterid family, and crows belong to the Corvid family.

Nesting

Grackles and crows are pretty similar when it comes to nesting. Both prefer to build nests high up in solid trees, and the nest itself is usually substantial. However, crow nests are usually larger than grackle nests, are well-maintained, and often reused year after year.

Grackle stood on a rock

Grackle stood on a rock

Female grackle vs female crow

Female crows look similar to male crows, whereas female grackles lack color and tend to be browner than male grackles.

Male and female crows are exceptionally hard to tell apart by looks alone. They look almost identical, except for slight differences between their head crests when present (male crests are larger and more expressive, i.e., they move them more often).

Male and female grackles are also similar, but females generally lack the same intensity of coloration as the males. For example, the female Common grackle is less blue across its chest, head, and neck, and is slightly brown instead. There are other differences in other species of grackles; the male Great-tailed grackle has a much longer tail than the female, for example.

Juvenile grackle vs juvenile crow

In general, juvenile crows are black with blue eyes, and juvenile grackles are brown with black eyes.

Crows hatch mostly naked, and form a shaggy, fluffy black down after a few days. By the juvenile stage, they’re covered in black plumage (or black and gray in some species). Compared to adult plumage, juvenile crows are fluffier and scruffier.

The most robust identifier of juvenile crows is their blue eyes, which gradually darken to black by adulthood.

Baby grackles are also born largely naked. The juveniles look similar to female blackbirds - they’re a mouse-to-dark brown color. Their eyes are also darker, turning lighter with adulthood.

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