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Overview

Brief Summary

The Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) is a large, noisy blackbird that is often seen in large groups, both when foraging and when gathering to roost overnight. These grackles are found in a wide range of semi-open and open habitats. They are resident from the southwestern and south-central United States and northern Baja California (present during the breeding season somewhat farther north) south to northern South America. This species has expanded its range northward in recent decades. Great-tailed Grackles forage mainly on the ground, feeding on a range of small arthropods, vertebrates, and other animals, as well as seeds, waste grain, and fruits. Great-tailed Grackles nest in colonies that may include anywhere from a few pairs to hundreds of pairs. Historically, this species and the Boat-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus major) were considered to be conspecific (i.e., members of the same species), but they were later found to co-exist without interbreeding from southwestern Louisiana to southeastern Texas (U.S.A.). (Kaufman 1996; AOU 1998)

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Distribution

The great-tailed grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus, was historically almost exclusively found in South and Central America, but human alteration of the environment has caused the birds to expand their range to include parts of the United States and Canada (Christensen, 2000). Their current range in the United States is north to eastern Oregon, with individuals sighted as far north as Canada (Sauer et al., 1997), south to northwest Peru, and as far east as Western Arkansas (Jaramillo, 1999).

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )

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Global Range: Resident from southeastern California and southern Nevada east to southern Nebraska and southwestern Missouri, south to South America (coastally to northwestern Peru and northwestern Venezuela). Breeding range is expanding. Recently nesting has occurred in Oregon and probably in Idaho (see Scheuering and Ivey 1995, Wilson Bull. 107:562-563).

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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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Physical Description

Morphology

The male great-tailed grackle is a large blackbird that appears purple-glossed. He averages approximately 45 cm in length and has a long ample tail. A potential identification problem exists between the boat-tailed grackle and the great-tailed, but the tail of the great-tailed tends to be wider and longer. The female is brown with a pale breast, and averages 35 cm in length. Both sexes have distinctive yellow eyes as adults (Peterson, 1990).

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Size

Length: 46 cm

Weight: 191 grams

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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The great-tailed grackle is found in a variety of habitats, including groves, thickets, farms, towns, city parks, (Peterson, 1990), mangroves, and marshes (Jaramillo, 1999).

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical

Aquatic Biomes: coastal

Wetlands: marsh

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural ; riparian

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Comments: Partly open situations with scattered trees, cultivated lands, pastures, shores of watercourses, swamps, wet thickets, around human habitation, sometimes in marshes. Often roosts in village shade trees or urban parks (Stiles and Skutch 1989). South America: common locally in mangroves and along shorelines and on lawns and in parks in towns and cities (Ridgely and Tudor 1989). Nests in trees, bushes, man-made structures, mostly near or over water; marsh vegetation where no trees or bushes are available near water. Sometimes nests in heron colony.

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Migratory at northern edge of breeding range.

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Trophic Strategy

The great-tailed grackle is known to eat insects, lizards, aquatic invertebrates and vertebrates, fruit, grain, and grass seed (Sibley, 2001). They are also known to remove and eat ectoparasites from livestock. Male nestlings appear to require more food than females of the same age (Ehrlich et al., 1988).

Animal Foods: reptiles; fish; eggs; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods

Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Comments: Eats mostly various invertebrates, sometimes small fishes, amphibians, and bird eggs and nestlings, also grain; forages on ground, mud flats, and in shallow water (Terres 1980). Eats berries and larger fruits, newly planted and ripening grain, larvae extracted from ground, ticks removed from cattle, various invertebrates and small vertebrates, carrion, offal, etc. (Stiles and Skutch 1989).

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Associations

Known prey organisms

Quiscalus mexicanus preys on:
Amazilia tzacatl

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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General Ecology

Highly gregarious.

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Cycle

The female of the species incubates the egg for 13-14 days. The chicks are born immobile, downless, with their eyes closed, and need to be fed by a parent. (Altricial development). The young leave the nest after a period of 20 to 23 days, and the female tends to them. (Sibley 2001).

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Life Expectancy

A banded great-tailed grackle lived at least 12.5 years. (USGS, 2002)

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
12.5 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
150 months.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 12.5 years (wild) Observations: Considering the longevity of similar species, the maximum longevity of these animals could be significantly underestimated.
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Reproduction

Early in the spring males establish small territories and begin the process of attracting females. The breeding is polygynous, and the females nest in the territory of one male. Several females will nest in a single male's territory, and mate with him. First year males are excluded from breeding but young females are not. The main display is the "ruff-out" which is accompanied by a song. In the "ruff-out" the tail is fanned while the body feathers are ruffed and the head is arched upwards as it sings. The wings are drooped and quivered or held out towards the sides. The male courtship display differs in that it is more exaggerated, the bill is pointed down rather than up, and the wings are rapidly quivered while the bird produces distinctive "cheat" notes. The female may respond by drooping and quivering the wings as the tail is cocked and gives "che" calls. (Jaramilo 1999)

Mating System: polygynous

First year males are excluded from mating, but young females (1 yr.) are not (Jaramillo, 1999). The breeding season begins in early April. Nesting occurs in colonies of few to thousands, with the nests placed close together. The males tend to avoid confrontation with low key disputes. The females will fight over the choice of nest sites, and will steal nest building materials from one another. Clutch sizes tend to average 3 to 4 eggs, and females incubate them for 13 to 15 days. The young are born altricial and leave the nest at 20 to 23 days (Harrison, 1978).

Breeding season: Spring

Range eggs per season: 3 to 4.

Range time to hatching: 13 to 15 days.

Range fledging age: 20 to 23 days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 to 2 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 to 2 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Average eggs per season: 3.

Chicks are born immobile, downless, with their eyes closed, and need to be fed by a parent. The males do not participate in nesting or care of the young.

Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care

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Clutch size is 3-4 in north, 2-3 in Costa Rica. Sometimes produces two broods per year. Incubation, by female, lasts 13-14 days. Young are tended by female, leave nest at 20-23 days. Usually nests in aggregations. Males polygynous.

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Quiscalus mexicanus

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 12 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

CCTATACCTAATCTTCGGTGCATGAGCCGGGATAGTAGGTACCGCCCTAAGCCTCCTAATTCGAGCAGAACTAGGCCAACCTGGAGCCCTTCTAGGAGACGACCAAGTCTACAACGTAGTTGTCACGGCCCATGCTTTCGTAATAATCTTCTTCATAGTCATACCAATCATAATCGGAGGATTCGGGAACTGACTAGTCCCCCTAATAATCGGGGCCCCAGACATAGCATTCCCACGAATAAACAACATGAGCTTCTGACTACTTCCCCCATCCTTCCTCCTCCTTCTAGCATCTTCCACAGTTGAAGCAGGTGCGGGTACAGGATGAACAGTATACCCCCCACTAGCAGGTAACCTAGCCCACGCCGGAGCCTCAGTCGACCTTGCAATCTTCTCCCTACATCTAGCCGGTATCTCTTCAATCCTAGGAGCAATCAACTTCATCACAACAGCAATCAACATGAAACCCCCTGCCCTATCACAATACCAAACCCCCTTATTCGTTTGATCCGTACTAATCACCGCAGTACTACTACTCCTATCTCTTCCAGTTCTAGCCGCAGGCATCACAATGCTTCTCACAGACCGCAACCTTAACACCACATTCTTTGACCCTGCCGGAGGAGGAGACCCAGTACTGTACCAACACCTATTCTGATTCTTTGGCCACCCAGAANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Quiscalus mexicanus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 11
Specimens with Barcodes: 22
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

History
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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