Bird-watching: Brown headed Cowbirds

In Birds, Uncategorized by couchiching

“Ladies and Gentlemen.  May I introduce Mr. and Mrs. Brown-headed Cowbird!”

In this marriage photograph by former wedding, turned wildlife  photographer Larry Kirtley , the blissful couple is seen in their new residence, right here in our community.  And they plan to get down to” family making”-that should be,” family destroying” immediately, with plans to have at least 19-20 babies this year.  Not to worry, you won’t have all of those babies screaming for food outside your window.  They will be scattered throughout the neighbourhood. Is this a little puzzling?  Let me explain.

Brown-headed Cowbirds are birds of the Western Prairies.  They acquired their name from following herds of bison, feeding on the insects stirred up as the animals grazed the grasses.  As the forests of Eastern Canada were cleared to provide agricultural farm lands, the cowbirds began to expand eastward, and their range now extends across Ontario.

“Female cowbirds are very devious and sly.  At this time of year they watch the migrating songbirds as they settle back into our area to nest.”

Female cowbirds are very devious and sly.  At this time of year they watch the migrating songbirds as they settle back into our area to nest.  When the female songbird begins to lay her eggs, the cowbird will enter the nest and deposit one of her eggs into it, carrying away one of the songbird’s eggs. The female cowbird will repeat this activity in different nests twenty or more times during the nesting season.

The larger egg of the cowbird is now incubated by the songbird and it will hatch a day or so earlier than the rightful eggs. The chick will also be larger than the host’s remaining chicks.  Being older and larger, the cowbird chick will overpower the host’s chicks, demanding and getting more food from the songbird parents and growing rapidly.  More than likely, most if not all of the songbird chicks will die as a result.

Meanwhile, the cowbird pair will be out enjoying themselves and living a “life of Reilly” – never having built a nest or taken the responsibility to care for their own young. And worst of all, murdering innocent young songbirds.

When one considers that the cowbirds may destroy twenty or more songbird families in a given year, literally thousands of young songbirds never get a chance for life and the species population can easily decrease rapidly.

This couple may look like peace- loving, good neighbours, in their new residence but beware, they are monsters in disguise!

No wonder these brood parasites are absolutely despised and vilified by Bird Lovers!

Written by David A. Homer.

Interested in learning more about the birds in our area and supporting conservation efforts for their habitat? See a checklist of birds seen during the Carden Challenge here and support our Local Celebrity Birder for the Challenge here.