The cowbird will wait for a resident bird to leave her nest and then will usually damage or remove one or more eggs and replace that one or more eggs with her own. The foster parents unknowingly raise the young cowbirds. Do cowbird nestlings harm the other nestlings? Cowbird parasitism can harm the host nest.
Despite their harmless appearance though, they are a friend to no one. Cowbirds are selfish and greedy and they pave a path of destruction everywhere they go. Unfortunately, I’ve met some people who have similar habits. Cowbirds act the way they do thanks to thousands of years of survival of the fittest.
To deter Brown-headed Cowbirds:
Avoid platform trays, and do not spread food on the ground. Cowbirds prefer sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and millet; offer nyjer seeds, suet, nectar, whole peanuts, or safflower seeds instead. Clean up seed spills on the ground below feeders.
The blackcap is a grey warbler, easily identified by its distinctive cap. Males have black caps (as the name suggests), while the female’s cap is chestnut brown. Juvenile males also have a brown cap. They have thin, dark-coloured beaks and brownish-grey wings.
Juncos vary across the country (see Regional Differences), but in general they’re dark gray or brown birds brightened up by a pink bill and white outer tail feathers that periodically flash open, particularly in flight. Dark-eyed Juncos are birds of the ground.
Females and young Cassin’s Finches are brown and white birds with dark streaks on the chest and underparts.
Small, nondescript brown bird with a short tail, thin bill, and dark barring on wings and tail with a paler throat.
The adult cowbird may actually eat an egg or two of the host bird. Babies of the European cuckoo, also a notorious brood parasite, go a step further and kill the other babies when they hatch. But baby cowbirds usually do not kill their nest mates.
Cowbirds earned their common name from the habit of following herds of buffalo (and cattle) in search of the insect prey that were flushed up by the large grazing mammals. Plumage of the male brown-headed cowbird is mostly glossy black with a contrasting dark brown head, females are dull grayish brown.
“We always had to keep an eye out for cowbirds, who are especially smart and sneaky. The females would sit in the trees persistently watching you, waiting to see where you would make your move,” she says.
Cowbirds are often symbolic of parasitism and negativity. Their bizarre nesting strategy poses a serious danger to large populations of songbirds. Cowbirds are considered by many to be villainous. Additionally, the cowbird can be seen as symbolic of vicious sibling rivalry.
There are two other cowbird species with very limited ranges in the United States: the shiny cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis), only found in most southern Florida, and the bronzed cowbird (Molothrus aeneus), only found in southern Texas and southeastern Arizona.
Cowbirds are brood parasites, meaning that rather than raise their young themselves, they ditch their eggs in other species’ nests and allow these forced foster parents to do the tough work of chick-rearing.
Brown-headed cowbirds are considered bullies for a different reason than most birds. These birds are brood parasites, meaning they don’t make their own nests.
Cowbirds lay eggs in a great variety of nests, including Red-winged Blackbird nests in marshes, dome-shaped Ovenbird nests on the forest floor, cup nests in shrubs and treetops, and even occasionally in nests in tree cavities.
As a native species, the Brown-headed Cowbird is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and taking eggs is illegal without a permit. While permits for cowbird control are granted, it’s only done when they’re considered a threat to endangered birds.
The map (right) shows how the Blackcaps breeding in Britain migrate south in the autumn (green arrows) to winter in North Africa, returning again in spring (pale arrows).
Catbirds give the impression of being entirely slaty gray. With a closer look you’ll see a small black cap, blackish tail, and a rich rufous-brown patch under the tail. Catbirds are secretive but energetic, hopping and fluttering from branch to branch through tangles of vegetation.
Blackcaps have, as of late, spent more time in the UK over the winter months. They come primarily from Germany and north-east Europe.
Male cardinals are brilliant red all over, with a reddish bill and black face immediately around the bill. Females are pale brown overall with warm reddish tinges in the wings, tail, and crest. They have the same black face and red-orange bill.
Juncos represent positive movement, as messengers to the restful, quiet, festive winter months. Dreaming about a junco during the winter season signals excited anticipation for the season.