Brown-headed Cowbird

Male Brown-headed Cowbird


We all have our favorite birds – Cardinals, Owls, Eagles and the colorful warblers.   Then there are the less popular ones – the Canada Geese that ruin our parks, the noisy crows that disrupt our cookouts and cormorants that can stink up an area.

And then there is the Brown-headed Cowbird!!!

Why do we hate the cowbird? Cowbird are brood parasites.  They lay their eggs in the nests of other songbirds, next to the eggs that are supposed to be there.

When the eggs hatch, the songbird parents in-print on the Cowbird young, and take over their care. The cowbird chick is often larger (sometimes dramatically) and aggressively takes most of the food its step-parents deliver to the nest. Soon the other chicks starve to death.

Yellow Warbler feeding a much bigger Cowbird chick

The whole process, while natural, is barbaric to watch.

No wonder the Brown-headed Cowbird is so unpopular.

The Cowbird evolved to follow the huge herds of buffalo that once roamed the country. The nomadic buffalo depleted the vegetation of an area before moving on. The Cowbirds followed the buffalo and thus were nomadic as well, which meant they could not stop to raise their own young. Thus they developed their brood parasite behavior.

With the great buffalo herds gone . . .  Brown-headed Cowbirds have spread across the continent . . . in some cases wreaking havoc with certain bird populations.

Female Brown-headed Cowbird on our feeder

The endangered Kirtland’s Warbler was decimated by Brown-headed Cowbird parasitic nesting, to the point where naturalists have constructed Brown-headed Cowbird traps near the Kirtland’s nesting areas.  Once captured, the Cowbirds are humanely destroyed.

This intervention seems to have saved the Kirtland’s Warbler from extinction and their population has begun to rebound.

Despite its less than stellar reputation the Brown-headed Cowbird is protected under the Migratory Bird Act.  In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began allowing cowbird trapping by private citizens without a federal permit as long as trapping is done to benefit a state Species of Greatest Conservation Need.

As for more appealing birds . . . spring migration is finally in full swing.  This morning I identified 44 different species in an hour and a half.

Some of the highlights:

Blue-headed Vireo
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black Guillemot




Palm Warbler and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher


Ruby-crowned Kinglet


Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright 2024