BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD

BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD (Molothrus ater)

The brown-headed cowbird has the dubious distinction of being a parasite to more than 200 other bird species, including birds that are larger. The female cowbird will lay an egg in the nest of the host species, and when hatching it will be fed by the host parents, often to the detriment of the parents’ own hatchlings. Various responses have been observed in host species to this parasitic behavior, such as ejection of the cowbird egg, building a nest layer on top of it and laying new eggs, leaving the nest, or rejecting the ‘alien’ hatchling outright.

The male has a brown head with the rest of the plumage being black, whereas the female is grey. The bill is that of a seed eater but cowbirds also eat insects, particularly those that have been disturbed in the ground by grazing animals, hence their name.

Brown-headed Cowbird, male - Kensington, PEI - Apr. 27, 2017 - © Heather Harris
Brown-headed Cowbird, male – Kensington, PEI – Apr. 27, 2017 – Heather Harris

In this video below there’s a female brown-headed cowbird opening up black sunflower seeds in its ‘granivorous’ bill, swallowing the ‘kernel’ and spitting out the seed envelope. Taken on April 14, 2014.

BACK TO THE TOP