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Brown-headed Cowbirds

Posted on Jun 17, 2016

We seem to be at the peak season of reports of, “Why is this pretty bird feeding this huge baby bird that is twice its size?!” all thanks to the native Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater). Here we have a photo of a male followed by a female. The species is a brood parasite with the female laying eggs in nests of other birds to leave the burden of raising young to these unsuspecting parents by fooling them into thinking it is their own egg. It is also a rather clever way of not putting all of your eggs in one basket.

Brown-headed Cowbird male-0898

Brown-headed Cowbird female-0902

These blackbirds are found in typical types of blackbird habitats – fields, grasslands, farms and open areas near homes and woodlands, including your bird feeders. Nearly all of our songbird breeding species have been recorded as being a host to a Cowbird egg, and fragmentation of habitat such as formerly deep woodlands makes it easier for Cowbirds to get to some nests of already imperiled species. Brown-headed Cowbirds are an example of one of the few species that has greatly benefited overall from how we have altered our natural world.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator