A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)

 

In Sonoma County, mostly a sporadic summer visitor, but numbers appear to be increasing. Appears more rarely at other times of the year. I first saw this bird at Ellis Creek Water Treatment Facility on December 8, 2009. My next sighting was more than two years later, at Place to Play Park, in Santa Rosa--(pictured below). By the 2015 Christmas count season, sightings were becoming less uncommon, although Great-tailed Grackle remains unusual enough that sightings still cause a slight stir in the local birding community. Favors reeds and other vegetation near water, but also uses open areas near human habitation such as pastures and cultivated areas. Locally often (although not always) solitary. We are at the northwest edge of Great-tailed Grackle's current range, but this species is spreading north. Bolander and Parmeter list only about five sightings through 2001, but there have been many more sightings than that in the county in the past few years alone--although this may reflect better reporting, not just an increase in birds. Breeding has been confirmed in the county.


Great-tailed Grackle looks like an oversized Brewer's Blackbird with an enormous tail. Mostly black but with a distinct bluish to purple sheen (see photo below). Adults have a pale eye. The tail is very large relative to the overall size of the bird, accounting for about half its length. In flight, the tail is often held in a distinct U-shape. Female has the large tail and long, heavy bill of the male but is brownish overall with paler underparts and a pale patch at the throat. Usually has a pale, buffy supercilium as well. Song is distinctive--raucous and loud with tinny sounds, rattling, and harsh-sounding whistles. Brinkley describes the song colorfully as sounding like "a ham radio being tuned."  


Selected county sightings: Lake Ralphine (November 28, 2017, Colin Talcroft); Lake Ralphine (December 20, 2015, Gene Hunn); Ellis Creek Water Treatment Facility (April 2, 2013, Bob Dyer); Place to Play Park, Santa Rosa (June 7, 2012, Colin Talcroft); Place to Play Park, Santa Rosa (June 1, 2012, Colin Talcroft); Ellis Creek Water Treatment Facility (December 8, 2012, Colin Talcroft); Mergel Road (May 2, 2012--three birds, Peter Colasanti); Ellis Creek Water Treatment Facility (April 29, 2012, Bob Dyer); Ellis Creek Water Treatment Facility (March 19, 2012, Bob Dyer); Ellis Creek Water Treatment Facility (March 11, 2012, Helen Kochenderfer); Shollenberger Park (October 9, 2011, 27 birds, including a flock of 25, Alan Wight); Shollenberger Park (August 9, 2011, Gene Hunn); near Ellis Creek Water Treatment Facility (July 28, 2011, Ruth Rudesill); Ellis Creek Water Treatment Facility (June 26, 2011, Ruth Rudesill); Shollenberger Park (May 31, 2001, Bolander and Parmeter); near Petaluma Airport (June 10, 12, and 14, 2001 and August 8, 2001--three birds in the last instance, while four birds were seen at the same location on August 10, 2001, all Bolander and Parmeter).


Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 122

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 421

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, no entry

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 446

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 506

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 652-654

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 620

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 351 (in passing, in Brewer's Blackbird entry)

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 459

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 336

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 98

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 299

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 72

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 310

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 354

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 306

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 443

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 726

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 380


Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Great-tailed Grackle

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© Colin Talcroft, 2009-2018

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.

ctalcroft@yahoo.com

Great-tailed Grackle (male) in flight, Place to Play Park, Santa Rosa, June 13, 2012

Great-tailed Grackle

Quiscalus mexicanus

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated July 10, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County

Great-tailed Grackle (male), Lake Ralphine, Santa Rosa, December 20, 2015

Great-tailed Grackle (male), showing iridescence. Lake Ralphine, Santa Rosa, November 28, 2017