Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle by David J. L'Hoste
© David J. L'Hoste
Quiscalus major
No one can visit the coastal marshes of Louisiana without seeing this large, long-tailed blackbird, which is sometimes called the "chock" or "crow black-bird." Although it is much smaller in body size than the Fish Crow, its exceedingly long tail makes it equal in total length to some examples of that species. The male Boat-tail appears to be all-black when viewed at a distance, but at close range, in good light, it turns out to be highly iridescent with intermingled blue, purple, and even dark green. The female is a nondescript tawny brown, except for the wings and tail, which are blackish brown. Young males just out of the nest resemble females in color. Within two months or so, however, they undergo a postjuvenal molt that puts them in their first winter plumage, which is dull uniform black. The following summer, at the time of the annual molt, the drab plumage gives way to the shiny, iridescent coat of steel blue and metallic greens and purple.
The Boat-tailed Grackle in Louisiana has brown eyes, a feature that readily sets it apart from the Great-tailed Grackle, in which the eye color is bright golden yellow. The eye of the male Boat-tail sometimes shows a narrow rim of yellow around the perimeter of the iris, and occasionally it may even appear to be a dull yellowish brown. The flashing of the white nictitating membrane across the eye also lends to it a light appearance under certain circumstances, but as H. Douglas Pratt has so adeptly expressed the matter, if there is ever any doubt as to whether a grackle has the eye a bright enough yellow to belong to a Great-tail, then the bird in question is not a Great-tail. This statement applies, however, only to Louisiana and other northern Gulf Coast populations, for Boat-tails on the Atlantic Coast do, indeed, have yellow eyes.
The species gets its common name from the huge keel-shaped or wedge-shaped tail, which is particularly evident, both when the bird is in flight and when it is perched. The extremely long legs are utilized to the fullest, for the bird holds its body high. It also keeps the long tail elevated at an angle as it walks or hops over the ground, usually in wet marsh areas but also in plowed fields near the coast.
In Louisiana the Boat-tail is primarily a resident of the coastal marshes, although it occurs commonly in the city parks of New Orleans and occasionally in fall and winter wanders a short distance inland along the numerous waterways in the southern part of our state. Only three times, however, has the bird been known to range as far up the Mississippi River as Baton Rouge.
Boat-tailed Grackles build their massive nests of grasses in colonies between upright stalks of marsh vegetation, in bushes such as mangrove, or in the top branches of trees that grow on the chenieres. The large bluish green eggs are beautifully blotched and scrawled with irregular purplish, vinaceous, and black markings.--George H. Lowery, Jr., 1974, Louisiana Birds

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