Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

Meadow Mueller 07/2003 - 04/2015

April 22, 2009

Don't Hate The Cowbirds

So, I posted this photo on Facebook the other day. I also made mention of them including a link to some small tid-bits on this species of bird. It seems to have raised a bit of a stink because they do have a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to nesting or rather "egg laying" by leaving their eggs in another birds' nest and have that other bird raise their baby. Call them mean. Call them lazy. You cannot deny they are clever.

The most interesting is their "mafia style" to ran-sack a nest where they dropped an egg which got rejected by the other family of birds who knew it was not one of theirs'.

Anyways, don't hate the Cowbirds, it's just what they do. Here's some further info on this species of bird that you may find interesting. Enjoy!

They occur in open or semi-open country and often travel in flocks, sometimes mixed with Red Winged Blackbirds (particularly in spring) and Bobolinks (particularly in fall), as well as Common Grackles or European Starlings. These birds forage on the ground, often following grazing animals such as horses and cows to catch insects stirred up by the larger animals. They mainly eat seeds and insects.

Before European settlement, the Brown-headed Cowbird followed Bison herds across the prairies. Their parasitic nesting behavior complemented this nomadic lifestyle. Their numbers expanded with the clearing of forested areas and the introduction of new grazing animals by settlers across North America. Brown-headed Cowbirds are now commonly seen at suburban birdfeeders.

This is a nest of an Eastern Phoebe with one Brown-headed Cowbird egg

This bird is a brood parasite: it lays its eggs in the nests of other small perching birds, particularly those that build cup-like nests. The Brown-headed Cowbird eggs have been documented in nests of at least 220 host species, including hummingbirds and raptors. The young cowbird is fed by the host parents at the expense of their own young. Brown-headed Cowbird females can lay 36 eggs in a season. More than 140 different species of birds are known to have raised young cowbirds.

Unlike the Common Cuckoo, it has no gentes, whose eggs imitate those of a particular host.

Host parents may sometimes easily notice the cowbird egg, to which different host species react in different ways. Rejection manifests in three forms: nest desertion (e.g., Blue-gray Gnatcatcher), burying of the egg under nest material (e.g., Yellow Warbler), and physical ejection of the egg from the nest (e.g., Brown Thrasher). Brown-headed cowbird nestlings are sometimes expelled from the nest.

The House Finch feeds its young a vegetarian diet, which is unsuitable for young Brown-headed Cowbirds. Although the Brown-headed Cowbird eggs laid in a House Finch nest will hatch, almost none survive to fledge.

It seems that Brown-headed Cowbirds periodically check on their eggs and young after they have deposited them. Removal of the parasitic egg may trigger a retaliatory reaction termed "mafia behavior". According to a study by the Florida Museum of Natural History published in 1983, the cowbird returned to ransack the nests of a range of host species in 56% of the time when their egg was removed. In addition, the cowbird also destroyed nests in a type of "farming behavior" to force the hosts to build new ones. The cowbirds then laid their eggs in the new nests 85% of the time.

This is the male Brown Headed Cowbird...

This is the female Brown Headed Cowbird...

I have 3 pairs about the property right now yet as far as I can tell there are no nests on the go suitable for the Cowbirds. I'd hope for them to stick around for the summer, as any insect eating birds on the property are definitely welcomed.


Teena in Toronto said...

I've never heard of them before.

Why are they called cowbirds?

T said...

I know nothing about birds, but I always enjoy your posts.

What a unique name for a bird!

Anonymous said...

I still hate them. We have endangered blue birds and they're not helping.