photo Michael Noonan
Brown-headed Cowbird is a Blackbird. He looks very similar to the Common
Grackle in that his body is a glossy blue-black. However, the Brown-headed
Cowbird is distinguished by its dark brown head and neck contrasting with
his blackish body. Like other blackbirds, the Brown-headed Cowbird is
dichromatic, meaning the male and female look different. The female is a
plain gray-brown, and could be confused for a large female sparrow to the
inexperienced birder. Cowbirds have a short, finch-like bill, very different
to the bill of his cousin the Grackle. They are 17-22 cm (7-9 in) in
size with a
28-36 cm (11-14 in) wingspan. They weigh 38-50 g (1.34-1.77 ounces).
photo Ivan Andrijevic
Brown-headed Cowbird is found throughout the United States. They are found
year-round in Northern Mexico and the states east of Texas and Iowa, and
during the breeding season (summer) can be found into California and up into
Alberta and British Columbia. The Brown-headed Cowbird is usually found in
areas with grassland and low or scattered trees, such as woodland edges,
brushy thickets, fields, prairies, pastures, orchards, and residential
areas. The Cowbird forages on ground, often in association with cows or
horses (which is where he got his name). The Cowbirds often follow the
cattle when walking, which disturbs insects on the ground and gives the
Cowbird an easy meal. Cowbirds mainly eat seeds and grains, but also are
known to dine on arthropods such as grasshoppers and beetles.
Brown-headed Cowbird is a brood parasite, meaning the female does not make a
nest of her own, but lays her eggs in the nests of many different species.
These unsuspecting birds then raise the young cowbirds. Studies have been
shown that Cowbirds do not prefer the nest or parent methods of a certain
bird; in fact, it has been found that over 220 species have been parasitized
by the Cowbird! The Cowbird egg is usually white or grayish with brown or
gray spots. Because the Cowbird does not care for her own eggs, it is hard
to tell the incubation period of the eggs, but it is most likely between
10-14 days. The young fledge between 8-13 days after hatching.
Where to see them in WNY
Brown-headed Cowbird is
most likely to be found in parks or other places that have mostly short,
open grasses and scattered trees.