What’s the Difference Between a Grackle and a Starling?

What Is Difference Between A Grackle And A Starling

Grackles and starlings are both common bird species, but they have distinct characteristics that set them apart. Understanding the differences between these two birds can help birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts better identify and appreciate them.

A grackle is a type of blackbird that belongs to the family Icteridae. It is native to North and South America and is known for its iridescent plumage and loud, raucous calls. Grackles are larger and more robust in size compared to starlings. They have long tails and a strong, thick bill. Their plumage is predominantly black, with hints of blue, purple, or bronze depending on the species.

On the other hand, a starling is a small to medium-sized bird from the family Sturnidae. They are native to Europe, Asia, and Africa and have been introduced to other parts of the world, including North America. Starlings have a more compact and streamlined body shape. Their plumage is typically dark with speckled or spotted patterns, and it may appear glossy or metallic in certain lighting conditions.

Apart from their physical differences, grackles and starlings also exhibit contrasting behaviors. Grackles are known for their omnivorous diet, feeding on insects, fruits, seeds, and even small vertebrates. They are often seen foraging on the ground in large flocks, displaying a highly social behavior. Grackles also undertake seasonal migrations, moving in large groups between their breeding and wintering grounds.

In contrast, starlings are highly adaptable birds with a varied feeding habit. They are opportunistic feeders, consuming a wide range of food, including fruits, insects, and even nesting birds’ eggs. Starlings are also social birds and often form large flocks, especially during the non-breeding season. However, they generally do not undertake long-distance migrations like grackles, although some populations may exhibit localized movements within their range.

The range and habitat of grackles and starlings also differ to some extent. Grackles are more commonly found in open habitats such as fields, marshes, and urban areas, whereas starlings are often associated with woodlands, farmlands, and suburban areas.

While grackles and starlings have distinctive features and behaviors, they also share certain similarities. Both species are highly adaptable and have successfully adapted to urban environments. They are also known for their vocalizations, including a variety of calls, songs, and mimicry. both grackles and starlings play important ecological roles by dispersing seeds and controlling insect populations.

Understanding the difference between grackles and starlings can enhance one’s birdwatching experience and appreciation for the diversity of bird species in their natural habitats.

Key takeaway:

  • Grackles and Starlings are both species of birds that have distinct physical and behavioral differences.
  • Grackles are larger in size compared to Starlings and have a different shape and structure.
  • Grackles have a dark glossy appearance, while Starlings have a more iridescent plumage.
  • In terms of behavior, Grackles have unique feeding habits and social behavior, while Starlings are known for their synchronized murmurations and complex vocalizations.
  • Grackles are native to North and Central America, while Starlings are native to Europe and Asia but have spread to other parts of the world.
  • Despite their differences, Grackles and Starlings share some similarities in their habitat preferences and vocalizations.

What is a Grackle?

Grackles, known for their glossy black feathers and yellow eyes, are a type of bird that belongs to the blackbird family. Native to North and South America, these birds can be found in a wide range of habitats including forests, meadows, and urban areas.

One of the remarkable traits of grackles is their adaptability, often seen in large flocks. They communicate through a distinctive vocalization consisting of chirps, whistles, and clicks. With an omnivorous diet, grackles feed on insects, fruits, seeds, and even small vertebrates.

An intriguing feature of grackles is their ability to mimic the sounds of other birds and even imitate human speech. This skill aids in their social interactions and courtship rituals. Grackles are also known for their nesting habits, constructing nests using twigs, grass, and other materials in trees or shrubs. They lay multiple eggs, usually ranging from 2 to 7, which both parents take turns incubating.

Considered beneficial to the environment, grackles help control insect populations and disperse seeds. However, in certain situations, they can be considered pests when they gather in large numbers, creating noise and mess. Overall, the grackle is a unique bird species with its distinct characteristics, diverse diet, and remarkable vocal abilities. You may wonder, “What is a Grackle?” These adaptable birds can be found in various habitats across the Americas.

What is a Starling?

A starling is a small to medium-sized bird known for its distinctive appearance and behaviors. It belongs to the family Sturnidae, which includes about 120 species of birds. Here are some key facts about starlings:

  1. Appearance: Starlings typically have a compact body with short, triangular wings and a pointed beak. Their plumage is mostly black, but some species have iridescent feathers that can appear green or purple in certain lighting conditions.

  2. Distribution: Starlings are found in many parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. They are highly adaptable birds and have been introduced to new areas by humans, often becoming invasive species.

  3. Behavior: Starlings are known for their remarkable vocal abilities. They are skilled mimics, capable of imitating a wide range of sounds, including other bird songs, human speech, and even mechanical noises. Their songs often include complex patterns and repetitions.

  4. Diet: Starlings are omnivorous, feeding on a variety of foods. They primarily eat insects during the breeding season but switch to a diet of fruits, seeds, and grains in the winter months when insects are scarce.

  5. Conservation Status: While some starling species are abundant and widespread, others are facing declines and are considered threatened or endangered. Habitat loss, competition with invasive species, and changes in agricultural practices are some of the factors contributing to their population declines.

What is a Starling? A starling is a small to medium-sized bird known for its distinctive appearance, vocal abilities, and adaptability. It is found in various parts of the world and has a varied diet. While some species thrive, others face conservation challenges.

Physical Differences

When comparing grackles and starlings, one aspect that stands out is their physical differences. In this section, we’ll explore these distinctions, covering factors such as size, shape, structure, coloration, and plumage. Get ready to dive into the fascinating world of avian anatomy and discover how these unique features contribute to the distinguishable appearances of these two bird species.


The size of grackles and starlings can vary significantly. Here is a comparison of their sizes:

Grackle Starling
Large Small to Medium
Average length: 12-15 inches Average length: 7-9 inches
Average wingspan: 14-18 inches Average wingspan: 12-16 inches

Grackles come in varying sizes, with some being larger than others, just like starlings. When comparing their sizes, grackles have an average length of 12-15 inches, while starlings are smaller, averaging 7-9 inches in length. In terms of wingspan, grackles have an average wingspan of 14-18 inches, slightly larger than starlings’ wingspan of 12-16 inches.

It is important to note that these are average sizes, and individual grackles or starlings may vary slightly in size. However, the difference in size between the two species is generally noticeable.

Understanding the size difference between grackles and starlings is helpful when distinguishing these birds in the wild.

Shape and Structure

When comparing the shape and structure of grackles and starlings, several distinct differences can be observed. Here is a comparison table:

Shape: Grackles Shape: Starlings
Have a longer tail, with a V-shaped appearance Have a shorter tail, with a less distinct shape
Have a large, robust body Have a smaller, slender body
Have a prominently arched bill Have a straight bill
Have long legs that are ideal for foraging on the ground Have shorter legs
Display iridescent plumage, with shades of blue, purple, and green Have a glossy plumage that appears dark with hints of purple and green
Have a slightly hunched posture when standing Have a straighter posture when standing

These differences in shape and structure contribute to the unique appearances of grackles and starlings. The V-shaped tail and larger body of grackles distinguish them from the shorter-tailed and slender starlings. The arched bill and iridescent plumage are unique features specific to grackles. In contrast, starlings have straight bills and a glossy plumage with different color tones. These distinctions in shape and structure help differentiate grackles and starlings when observing them in the wild.

Coloration and Plumage

Coloration and Plumage are significant factors that differentiate grackles and starlings. Let’s explore the unique characteristics of each bird in terms of their coloration and plumage:

Grackle Starling
Grackles have a glossy black plumage that has an iridescent sheen in sunlight. Starlings also have glossy black plumage but without the iridescent sheen.
Adult male grackles have bright yellow eyes, while adult females and juveniles have brown eyes. Adult male starlings have dark brown eyes, while adult females and juveniles have lighter brown eyes.
During breeding season, grackles’ feathers can take on a purple or blue hue in certain lighting conditions. Starlings do not exhibit any color variations in their plumage.
Grackles have longer tails compared to starlings, with each tail feather having a slightly rounded shape. Starlings have shorter tails that are more pointed in shape.

Interestingly, both grackles and starlings have dark, glossy feathers, but grackles have a unique iridescent sheen and the ability to display purple or blue hues during breeding season. These variations in coloration and plumage add to the distinctiveness of these bird species.

Fact: Did you know that the iridescent sheen in grackles’ feathers is caused by the microscopic structure of the feathers reflecting light? This gives them their captivating shimmering appearance.

Behavioral Differences

When it comes to the behavioral differences between grackles and starlings, there’s more than meets the eye. From their distinctive feeding habits to intriguing social behaviors and remarkable migration patterns, these avian species showcase captivating contrasts. While grackles prefer a particular feeding style, starlings have their own unique approach. Likewise, their social behavior sets them apart, and their migration patterns add an element of wanderlust. Let’s delve into these intriguing behavioral disparities and discover what makes grackles and starlings truly stand out in the avian world.

Feeding Habits

When it comes to feeding habits, both grackles and starlings exhibit distinct differences. Here are some key points to consider about their feeding habits:

  • Grackles display omnivorous feeding habits, meaning they consume a diverse range of food sources. Their diet comprises insects, fruits, seeds, grains, and small vertebrates.
  • Similar to grackles, starlings are also omnivores and possess a similar dietary pattern. They feed on insects, berries, fruits, seeds, and grains.
  • Both grackles and starlings showcase foraging behavior on the ground, diligently searching for food in open areas such as lawns, fields, and agricultural lands.
  • Grackles exhibit a more opportunistic feeding behavior. They are known to raid bird feeders and scavenge for food in urban environments.
  • On the contrary, starlings possess adept skills in probing the soil or utilizing their beaks to excavate insects and larvae hidden beneath the surface.

It’s important to recognize that both grackles and starlings can have adverse effects on native bird species and agricultural crops due to their feeding habits. They are often considered pest birds as they consume significant amounts of agricultural products and displace native species from their natural habitats.

Fact: During the winter months, grackles and starlings are known to gather in large flocks, frequently choosing communal areas for roosting. This behavior facilitates their search for food and offers protection against predators.

Social Behavior

Social behavior is an important aspect to consider when comparing social behavior in grackles and starlings. Here are some key differences in their social behavior:

  • Group size: Grackles tend to gather in larger flocks compared to starlings, with group sizes often reaching hundreds or even thousands of individuals.
  • Hierarchy: Grackles have a more complex social hierarchy within their flocks, with dominant individuals asserting their dominance over others. Starlings, on the other hand, have a more egalitarian social structure with less clear dominance hierarchies.
  • Foraging behavior: Grackles are known to exhibit more opportunistic social foraging behavior, often feeding in open areas and actively searching for food. Starlings, on the other hand, have a wider diet and can adapt their foraging behavior to various environments.
  • Roosting: Grackles have a tendency to engage in communal roosting in large numbers, often gathering in specific locations such as trees or buildings. Starlings also engage in roosting in large numbers but are known to form massive roosts, sometimes numbering in the millions.
  • Communication: Both grackles and starlings are highly vocal species, but their vocalizations differ. Grackles have a wider repertoire of calls, including distinctive squeaky or throaty sounds, while starlings are known for their melodious and complex songs.

Pro-tip: When observing grackles or starlings in the wild, pay attention to their group dynamics, foraging behavior, and vocalizations. These social behaviors can provide fascinating insights into the behaviors and interactions of these avian species.

Migration Patterns

  • Migratory behavior is a fundamental characteristic of both grackles and starlings as they exhibit migration patterns, traveling between different geographic locations in response to seasonal changes.
  • Short-distance migrants, both species typically move within a few hundred miles during migration.
  • During the spring and summer months, grackles and starlings migrate northward to breed and raise their young.
  • In the fall and winter, they migrate southward to seek more favorable climates and sources of food.
  • Their migrations may vary in timing and duration depending on factors such as food availability, weather conditions, and breeding cycles.
  • Migrating in large flocks, grackles and starlings increase their chances of finding food and suitable habitats along the way while providing each other protection.

Migration patterns play a crucial role in the life cycle of both grackles and starlings. By understanding their migratory behavior, researchers and conservationists can gain valuable insights into population dynamics, habitat requirements, and environmental changes. Protecting key stopover sites and crucial habitats along migration routes is essential for the conservation of these species.

When observing grackles and starlings during migration, it is fascinating to witness their coordinated flight patterns and hear their vocalizations as they communicate and navigate their way to their destination.

Range and Habitat

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Species Range Habitat
Grackle North America Open woodlands, farmlands, urban areas
Starling Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, Australia, New Zealand Wide variety of habitats including urban areas, forests, grasslands

The range and habitat of both grackles and starlings differ significantly. Grackles, with their range primarily found in North America, have a preference for open woodlands, farmlands, and urban areas. These adaptable birds can thrive in human-altered environments, making them common sights in suburban and urban areas, where they often nest in residential neighborhoods.

Starlings, on the other hand, have a much wider range that includes Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. They exhibit a greater tolerance for various habitats, including urban areas, forests, grasslands, and even agricultural fields. Their adaptability has enabled them to establish successful populations in different parts of the world.

Both species are well-known for their ability to thrive in human-dominated landscapes, making them frequent visitors to cities and towns. However, grackles have a more limited distribution compared to starlings, which have a broader habitat range.

Pro tip: To attract grackles or starlings to your backyard, consider creating a diverse habitat with a combination of open spaces and trees. Additionally, placing bird feeders with suitable food can increase the likelihood of attracting these species. Remember to regularly clean the feeders to prevent the spread of diseases.


When it comes to vocalizations, there are some key differences between grackles and starlings. Here are some important points to consider:

  • Grackles: Grackles are known for their loud and distinctive vocalizations. They have a unique call that can be described as a combination of harsh squawks and high-pitched whistles. Grackles are highly vocal, especially during their breeding season, when they use their vocalizations to communicate with other members of their flock and establish their territory.
  • Starlings: Starlings are also known for their vocal abilities. They have a wide range of vocalizations, including melodious songs and various calls. Starlings are excellent mimics and can imitate the vocalizations of other birds and even human speech. They are known for their ability to produce complex and intricate songs, which they use for communication and attracting mates.

Both grackles and starlings are highly vocal birds, but their vocalizations have distinct qualities. Grackles have a more harsh and loud vocal call, while starlings have a wider range of sounds, including melodious songs and mimicry. Understanding these differences can help in identifying and appreciating the unique vocalizations of each bird.

Similarities between Grackles and Starlings

There are several similarities between grackles and starlings, which are both types of birds. Below is a table highlighting some of these similarities:

Similarities between Grackles and Starlings
Both belong to the Blackbird family
Both have similar sizes, typically measuring around 8-12 inches in length
Both have dark feathers, with grackles commonly having iridescent black plumage and starlings displaying glossy black feathers
Both are highly adaptable birds, able to thrive in various habitats
Both are known to be social and often gather in large flocks
Both species are omnivorous, feeding on a wide range of foods including insects, fruits, seeds, and scraps
Both have the ability to mimic other bird calls and sounds

Considering these similarities, it is evident that grackles and starlings share several common characteristics, from their appearance to their behavior and diet. It is important to note that there are also notable differences between these species, which should be explored further.

When observing grackles and starlings in the wild or in your backyard, take note of these shared characteristics and appreciate the fascinating nature of these birds.

Difference between a Grackle and a Starling:

  • ✅ Grackles are larger birds with longer tails compared to starlings.
  • ✅ Starlings have pinkish legs, whereas grackles have dark legs.
  • ✅ Grackles are commonly found in open grasslands, while starlings prefer dwelling in towns.
  • ✅ Grackles have glossy-iridescent plumage, while starlings appear entirely black with a dark sheen.
  • ✅ Grackles belong to the Icteridae family, while starlings belong to the Corvidae family.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a grackle and a starling?

Grackles and starlings are similar-looking birds, but there are several noticeable differences:

  • Grackles are larger and have longer tails, while starlings are smaller with shorter tails.
  • Grackles have dark legs, while starlings have pinkish legs.
  • Grackles prefer open grasslands, while starlings like dwelling in towns.

Are grackles and starlings related to each other?

No, grackles and starlings belong to different bird families. Grackles are members of the Icteridae family, while starlings belong to the Sturnidae family. Ravens, American crows, and blue jays are members of the Corvidae family.

Can grackles and starlings be found together?

Yes, grackles, starlings, rusty blackbirds, and cowbirds often flock together. This can sometimes cause confusion among birdwatchers.

What are the physical characteristics of grackles?

Grackles are taller birds with sizable bodies and long, keel-shaped tails. They have glossy-iridescent plumages, with males showing bronze, purple, or green iridescence on the back. Female grackles have a dull overall look and are slightly smaller.

How can you identify a starling?

Starlings are smaller-sized birds with chunky, blackbird-sized bodies, short tails, and long, slender yellow bills. They appear entirely black, but have a dark sheen. Breeding adults have purplish-green iridescent feathers and yellow bills.

Where can grackles and starlings be found?

Grackles are prevalent across North America and are year-round residents. European starlings were brought to the northern region in 1890 and are now abundant songbirds. Grackles prefer open grasslands, while starlings can be found in towns and grassy areas.

Julian Goldie - Owner of ChiperBirds.com

Julian Goldie

I'm a bird enthusiast and creator of Chipper Birds, a blog sharing my experience caring for birds. I've traveled the world bird watching and I'm committed to helping others with bird care. Contact me at [email protected] for assistance.