Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Bad News Birds: Brown-headed Cowbirds April 8, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Uncategorized — saltthesandbox @ 3:09 pm
Tags: , , ,

Cowbirds are back, and that’s bad news for other songbirds in our neighborhood. A male Cowbird stopped by our feeders earlier this spring, then moved on. Thus time a pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds fed on the ground, then started searching the brushy margins of our yard, and then the neighbor’s yard:

The male Borwn-headed Cowbird is glossy black with a brown head. The female is dull grey-brown.

The male Brown-headed Cowbird is glossy black with a brown head. The female is dull grey-brown.

They probably were looking for a nest where they could lay their eggs. Cowbirds don’t build their own nests, and they don’t take care of their own young. Instead they trick other birds into raising baby Cowbirds. Last summer Cowbirds’ strategy succeeded in our neighborhood — I watched our male Cardinal feed a fledgling Cowbird in our yard.

When you think about it, it’s an amazing way of life. Cowbirds once followed American Bison herds across the prairie, so they could not afford to stay in one place long enough to nest. Since Bison almost disappeared, Cowbirds have spread east, tricking new kinds of birds and endangering some rare species, like the Kirtland’s Warbler.

When birds are endangered, conservation biologists trap and kill Cowbirds to save the threatened species. But I know I can’t do anything about the Cowbirds in our neighborhood. It’s one of those things I just have to accept about nature.

Here’s some comfort: There are still lots of Cardinals in south Oak Park. Today I heard ten Cardinals singing during my morning walk. (Go here to listen to their song.)

Here’s a blog post from eat more cookies with more information about Cowbirds: Cowbirds or bisonbirds — what’s their deal?

Go here to read more about the birds we’re seeing in our yard.


Note added the next day at 8:40 a.m.:  The news isn’t getting any better, because this morning there were two pairs of Cowbirds in our yard!


7 Responses to “Bad News Birds: Brown-headed Cowbirds”

  1. Lauren Says:

    Wow, you aren’t kidding! This past week there have been approximately 10 of the birds visiting our yard. They seem to bully all of the other birds. We have cardinals, bluejays, woodpeckers, and several other birds that I don’t want to go away. But these darn little black birds seem to be chasing them away!! I want them gone!

  2. Maureen Says:

    We have cowbirds that have been growing in numbers every year. We also have a very large population of wonderful song birds. I would urge any one who cares about birds to try to get rid of the cowbirds by checking nests and removing eggs and resorting to any means to get rid of them. In my opinion they are pure evil.

    Look at this photo of a baby cowbird (scroll a littl bit down to see baby cowbirds n other bird’s nests) in a song bird nest and see of you agree that action must be taken.

    I love all animals but have now found one I despise. As far as I can see – the cowbird serves no purpose in the natural scheme of things and in fact, is wrecking havoc on the song bird population. We need to take action.

  3. nick Says:

    I’ve seen both male and female cowbirds numerous times at my feeder. It’s been three weeks since I started feeding birds and it took me a little while to identify them but I think with different seed I can discourage them from coming over our house. Any tips on geting rid of them (other than pellet gun) would be appreciated.

  4. Over the winter in NC, I had a few cowbirds in my yard; however, NOW they have taken over everything. My Finch, Chickadees, Cardinals, Towhee’s… you name it can’t eat nor live in peace. They took over the birdbath and just look at me when I yell at them. I’ve read that these monsters take others nest and force the mothers to raise their young. I have at least 25 or more sparrow who next in my yellow jasmine. How do I rid my yard of these pests?

    • Sorry about your Cowbird problem, Janet. I’m wondering if this sort of flocking behavior is a temporary thing. Once the males and females pair off and go looking for nests to lay their eggs in, most of them may leave you alone. The nest parasitism it seems more about trickery than force, but the results are the same — more Cowbirds, fewer of other species. I think it was two years ago our local Cardinals raised a Cowbird for their first brood. Luckily they then nested a second time and successfully raised a bunch of Cardinal babies.

  5. sketchjay Says:

    Your Cowbird photo is beautiful

  6. Robert Davis Says:


    The answer —get the cowbird parasites in check— go down to Dicks Sporting store and get a BB gun. Dead females will give the songbirds—who are on the way into their last sunset leaving only beautiful memories — a last chance.

    Conservationist are losing the battle –Big time.

    Robert Davis


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