Although they are birds of the marshes and Everglades, Boat-tailed Grackles adapt well to the suburban environment and set up colonies of females dominated by a single male who may defend a "harem" of several dozen females, permitting only a few other older ranking males to mate with them. Dominance between the males is maintained by an elaborate display which involves confrontation, alternate vocalizing, fluttering and posturing. This seems to ward off most violent struggles. Eye color varies from dark brown or black in south Florida to yellowish or straw-colored to the north and along Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf coast.
This display took place on our south Florida lawn. The males each took turns calling and fluttering as the other froze in a bill-up posture:
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Female Boat-tailed Grackles are smaller and quite different in appearance from the males. For much of the year they gather in same-sex flocks away from the males, whose displays intensify as the breeding season approaches. Younger males and females often passively watch the competition between the dominant older males.
Our local population is essentially non-migratory but in winter is supplemented by visitors from the north. At dawn and dusk we may see large flocks moving back and forth between communal roosts. They are opportunitic omnivores, seeming to eat anything from linsects and lizards on our lawns to seeds, grain and garbage. Their long legs are an adaptation to feeding in shallow water, where they capture small aquatic organisms by sight, almost like miniature herons.
To the west, the similar Great-tailed Grackle species replaces the Boat-tailed. The former have bright yellow eyes.
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The smaller Common Grackle also has yellow eyes:
A winter gathering of a mixed flock of grackles against a gray sky, Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY :
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