Quiscalus quiscula versicolor

Status:  Abundant regular spring and fall migrant and breeder statewide. Uncommon regular winter visitor south and east, rare casual elsewhere.

Documentation:  Specimen: UNSM ZM7029, 25 Mar 1890 Lincoln, Lancaster Co.

Taxonomy: Three subspecies are recognized (Pyle 1997): versicolor, breeding from Northwest Territories and northern New Mexico east to Newfoundland and southwest Louisiana, wintering to south Texas and Georgia, stonei, breeding from central Louisiana to Connecticut and North Carolina, wintering to Nova Scotia and northern Florida, and quiscula, resident from eastern Louisiana to southeast Virginia and Florida. Nebraska birds are versicolor (Pyle 1997).

Jaramillo and Burke (1999) consider stonei to apply to birds in a hybrid zone between versicolor and quiscula; the zone has been moving north in recent years.

Spring:  Feb 12,12,12 <<<>>> summer

In the southeast, where a few birds overwinter, spring movement begins in mid-Feb; flocks such as 100 at Funk WPA, Phelps Co 5 Feb 1999, 125 at Nebraska City, Otoe Co 6 Feb 1998, 500 at Grand Island, Hall Co 7 Feb 2013, and a “huge flock” in Lincoln Co 8 Feb 2009, are probably early migrants as wintering birds rarely occur in groups of more than 10-15 birds (see Winter). Peak movement probably occurs in late Mar (Johnsgard 1980).

In the north and west, where overwintering is rare, movement is discernible by early Mar, although one was in Scottsbluff and 10 were in Bayard 20 Feb 2006. Also early were 31 in North Platte, Lincoln Co 9 Feb 2011.

Males generally precede females; in Finney Co, Kansas, careful counts by Tom Shane in 2006 showed that 8-16 Mar most were males; females had increased to about 20% by 16 Mar.

  • High counts:  11,222 in Lancaster Co 31 Mar 2010, 10,000 there 27 Mar 2017, 5000 in Grand Island, Hall Co 19 Apr 2018, 3000 in Lancaster Co 13 Apr 2015, and 3000 at Marsh Wren Community Wetlands, Lancaster Co 30 Mar 2020.

Summer: Common Grackle breeds in woodland edge habitats, and is partial to areas with planted trees, especially conifers, such as windbreaks, residential areas, and parks, which have increased numbers of breeding birds westward. Breeding birds occur statewide, but BBS data indicate that they are most numerous in southern and eastern Nebraska where human population is greatest.  Brogie and Mossman (1983) found it abundant in the Niobrara Valley Preserve, with 74 nests located in their study area in 1982.  In the northwest, Rosche (1982) considered it a common summer resident.

  • Breeding phenology:
  • Copulation: 30 Apr
    Nest Building: 23 Apr- 7 Jun
    Eggs: 26 Apr-27 Jun
    Nestlings: 29 May- 16 Jul
    Fledglings: 8 May- 3 Jul

   An apparent juvenile capable of flight was photographed at Hastings, Adams Co 4 Apr 2009; its provenance at that date is difficult to explain.

Fall: Juveniles begin flocking at the end of Jun and in early Jul (Brown et al 1996); a flock of 15 juveniles was in Nebraska City 26 Jun 2003, 43 at Straightwater WMA, Seward Co 16 Jun 2020, and 180 in Fillmore Co 3 Jul 2005. A flock of 590 was roosting at Snake Creek Marsh, Box Butte Co 3 Jul 2020, and 3000 were at Oliver Reservoir, Kimball Co 30 Jul 2019. Migration probably peaks during Oct (Johnsgard 1980), when huge flocks occur.  By late Dec, CBC data show that over 85% of Common Grackles still in the state are in the east.

  • High counts:  100,000 over Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 25 Sep 2004, 100,000 over Brady, Lincoln Co 5 Oct 2004, 100,000 near North Platte 22 Oct 2009, and 100,000 in Lincoln Co 13 Oct 2016.

Winter: There are many midwinter (1 Jan-11 Feb) reports in the south and east, but such reports are unusual elsewhere.  Almost all Jan-early Feb reports are of 10 or fewer birds; exceptions are of 30 at Jack Sinn Memorial WMA, Lancaster Co 21 Jan 2012, and 40 there 21 Jan 2015.

The only report of overwintering in the west is of six birds at a Gering, Scotts Bluff Co feeder 2002-2003, although singles at a Scottsbluff, Scotts Bluff Co feeder 1 Feb 2005 and 7-9 Feb 2014 may also have been wintering. Rosche (1982) noted that in the northwest “a few attempt wintering each year, but few are successful as numbers decline markedly after early February.”  There are very few Feb reports for the north and west: two on 5 Feb 2004 Creighton, Knox Co, 6 Feb 1953 Boyd Co, 9 Feb 1966 Sioux Co, 9 Feb 1952 Boyd Co, 10 Feb 1962 Logan Co, and 16 Feb 1985 Morrill Co (Williams 1985).


BBS: Breeding Bird Survey
CBC: Christmas Bird Count
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)


Photograph (top) of a Common Grackle at Fort Robinson State Park, Dawes Co 23 May 2017 courtesy of NEBRASKALAND/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Literature Cited

Brogie, M.A., and M.J. Mossman. 1983. Spring and summer birds of the Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska: An annotated checklist. NBR 51: 44-51.

Brown, C.R., M.B. Brown, P.A. Johnsgard, J. Kren, and W.C. Scharf. 1996. Birds of the Cedar Point Biological Station area, Keith and Garden Counties, Nebraska: Seasonal occurrence and breeding data. Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences 23: 91-108.

Jaramillo, A., and P. Burke. 1999. New World Blackbirds- The Icterids.  Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.

Johnsgard, P. A. 1980. A preliminary list of the birds of Nebraska and adjacent Great Plains states. Published by the author, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, USA.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1982. Birds of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, an annotated checklist. Cottonwood Press, Crawford, Nebraska, USA.

Williams, F. 1985. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 39: 182-185.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2020.  Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 1 Sep 2020