Zanate characteristics, habitat, feeding, behavior

David Holt

The carrot or chanateQuiscalus mexicanus) is a bird of the Icteridae family native to the American continent, with a wide distribution that currently ranges from Minnesota, in the United States, to Ecuador.

It presents a clear sexual dimorphism, with the male being the largest (up to 46 cm) and an iridescent black coloration; while the female barely reaches 38 cm and is brown. In both sexes the tail is proportionally longer than in other birds of the same genus.

Quiscalus mexicanus, male. Taken and edited from: Thomas [Public domain].

It lives mainly in open spaces, such as prairies, grasslands, swamps, although it is also found in secondary forests and in urban and suburban parks, among others..

Its diet is omnivorous, taking advantage of a wide variety of food items. The herbivorous diet is mainly based on fruits, seeds and dried fruits. Their carnivorous diet, on the other hand, includes insect larvae, livestock parasites, fish, amphibians (both tadpoles and adults), lizards, and even eggs, chicks, and adult birds..

The organisms of this species are very intelligent and capable of solving simple problems to obtain their food. They are also very territorialist and in the breeding season they violently defend their territory from birds of the same or another species, and even from other types of animals, including man..

Article index

  • 1 General characteristics
  • 2 Taxonomy
  • 3 Habitat and distribution
    • 3.1 Habitat
    • 3.2 Distribution
  • 4 Playback
  • 5 Food
  • 6 Behavior
    • 6.1 Food
    • 6.2 Reproductive
  • 7 Impact
  • 8 References

General characteristics

Medium-sized bird, males can reach up to 46 cm and weigh up to 265 g, while females only reach 38 cm long and 142 g in weight. The rudder feathers (of the tail), especially the central ones, are almost the same length as the body, a characteristic that gives rise to its name in English: great tailed.

The coloration of the male is iridescent black, with the head and upper part of the body with purple-blue tones, while the females are brown, with darker tones on the wings and tail. Juveniles of both sexes have colors similar to those of the adult female.

The eyes of juveniles are brown and turn bright yellow in adults..

The female lays 3-5 pale greenish-blue eggs, with irregularly distributed gray-brown or black spots..

It is a bird considered aggressive and very noisy. In the following video you can see a specimen of this species:


The carrot is a bird of the Passeriformes order belonging to the Icteridae family, a family of birds of medium or small size, with pointed and strong beaks. Males are generally black in plumage and larger than females..

This family contains 30 genera, including that of Quiscalus, which was described by Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot in 1816. The type species of the genus is Q. quiscula and was designated as such by George Robert Gray in 1840. This genus currently contains seven valid species, including Q. mexicanus.

The species Quiscalus mexicanus, for its part, it was described for the first time by Gmelin in 1788 under the name of Cassidix mexicanus. Currently eight subspecies of this species are recognized.

Habitat and distribution


The original habitat of the carrot consisted of the coastal marshes, lagoons, mangroves and riparian forests. However, it currently inhabits a greater variety of ecosystems, being absent only in very dense forests, as well as in desert or semi-desert areas..

It adapts very well to the human presence, so it is common to observe it in agricultural lands, where it can feed on ectoparasites that affect livestock, or it can frequent farmland to feed on worms and insects that are exposed when they are work the land for sowing.

They can also inhabit parks and gardens in urban and suburban areas.


This bird, according to some authors, is native to the coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico, but other authors maintain that it really is native to the lowlands of Central and South America.

According to these last authors, the carrot would have been introduced in Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire during the mandate of Emperor Ahuitzotl, probably to use its iridescent feathers for decorative purposes..

Its current distribution range covers from Ecuador to Minnesota, Oregon, Idaho and California, in the United States, including western Colombia and northwestern Venezuela. There are even records of isolated individuals as far north as Canada..

The expansion of the territory of this species has been favored by its great capacity for adaptation, tolerance to humans and the expansion of agricultural activities and urban spaces.

Researchers estimate that the range of this species has expanded by more than 5,000 percent in recent years. Another factor that has favored its expansion is the fact that, despite being permanent residents in most of its territory, some specimens carry out migrations that have allowed them to colonize new areas..

Altitudinally the species is distributed from sea level to 2750 m in height.


The carrot is a gonochoric species, that is, it presents separate sexes, with sexual dimorphism and a type of iterópara reproduction. The latter means that it is reproduced on more than one occasion throughout its life cycle..

The male is larger than the female and the time it takes for both sexes to reach sexual maturity is also different. According to some researchers, the female does it at the first year of life, while the male takes two years to reach it..

Quiscalus mexicanus, female. Taken and edited from: DickDaniels ( [CC BY-SA (].

Both the male and the female can copulate with different partners, however, this occurs more frequently in the male than in the female, for which the researchers point out that the reproductive strategy is polygynous, that is, many females for each male..

The breeding season will depend on the geographic location of the population. At this time, reproductive colonies are formed with a variable number of reproductive pairs. When the pairs are formed, the male defends his territory and the females that are in it.

The female is the only one who participates in the search for material to make the nest, its construction, as well as brood the eggs and take care of the chicks, while the male protects the clutch and the female from possible attacks by other birds of the same species, as well as possible predators.

The clutch consists of 3-5 eggs (usually 3) of light greenish blue color. The female can nest, on average 1.5 times per year. The incubation of the eggs lasts 13 days.


Quiscalus mexicanus it is a generalist and opportunistic omnivorous species. Generally forages in flocks with a variable number of members. In rural areas, their diet is mainly herbivorous and takes advantage of human agricultural activity to search for their food..

In these cases, the main food items are seeds and fruits in the growing areas. It also benefits from soil removal by tillage tractors, which reveals larvae and adults of insects, worms and other animals to feed on them..

In addition to insects, other components of its carnivorous diet are crabs, insects and their larvae, spiders, scolopendras, millipedes, snails, adult tadpoles and amphibians, fish, lizards, iguanas, hatchlings of sea turtles, eggs, chicks and adult birds..

Some authors point out that it can kill small birds, such as swallows, in flight and then feed on them, or have a cannibalistic behavior on eggs and perhaps chicks of its own species..

You can also dive in search of fish or tadpoles, or catch them on the banks of rivers. If necessary, can feed on carrion.



The carrot can gather in large groups to look for food, or it can feed alone. In the arable fields he waits for the land to be plowed to feed on seeds, larvae, worms and insects that are left exposed. It can also steal seeds or feed on the cultivated fruits.

Female of Quiscalus mexicanus feeding on a banana. Taken and edited from: Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada [CC BY-SA (].

It is an intelligent bird that can turn over stones and other objects, as well as uncover boxes or jars, to see if there are possible prey to catch, some authors have documented that there are organisms that submerge food in water before ingesting it to facilitate the process. In urban areas you can look for your food in garbage dumps.


During the reproductive period, the male courts the female with vocalizations and body movements that include raising the tail and flapping it while leaning forward, separating the wings from the body..

The male courts more than one female during this period and if he is accepted, he will mate with each of them and the females will build the nest in their territory. The male defends the females from harassment by other males, but eventually a female may escape his vigilance and mate with another male..

The defense of the territory becomes more aggressive while the female is caring for and feeding the chicks, even attacking the human being to protect her offspring..


The carrot is considered an agricultural pest in some localities, although the magnitude of the impact of the species on crops has not been quantified. It can also act as a vector for some diseases that affect both domestic animals and humans.


  1. AnAge entry for Quiscalus mexicanus. In AnAge: The animal aging and longevity database. Recovered from:
  2. F.G. Cupul-Magaña, F. Mc Cann & A.H. Escobedo-Galván (2018). General observations on the diet of the Mexican carrot Quiscalus mexicanus in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Huitzil, Mexican Journal of Ornithology.
  3. Great-tailed grackle. On Wikipedia. Recovered from:
  4. Greater Zanate. Quiscalus mexicanus. At Audubon. North American Bird Guide. Recovered from:
  5. W. Wehtje (2003). The range expansion of the great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus Gmelin) in North America since 1880. Journal of Biogeography.
  6. F.D. Sánchez, F. Chávez, A. Méndez, G. García, C. Guerrero N. Ledesma & E. Salinas (2014). Sarcocystis sp. in carrotsQuiscalus mexicanus), thrushes (Molothrus aeneus) and sparrows (Aimophila ruficauda) from Mexico. Veterinary Mexico OA.

Yet No Comments