Brown-headed Cowbird

Common Name: Brown-Headed Cowbird
Class:
Aves
Order:
Passeriformes
Family: 
 Icteridae
Genus: 
Molothrus
Species: 
 Molothrus ater

photo M. Noonan

Taxonomy/Description

The 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. Size: 17-22 cm (7-9 in) Wingspan: 28-36 cm (11-14 in) Weight: 38-50 g (1.34-1.77 ounces)


photo Ivan Andrijevic

Habitat/Diet

The 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.

Behavior/Reproduction

The 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 babies fledge between 8-13 days after hatching.

Where to see them in WNY

The Cowbird is most likely to be found in parks or other places that have mostly short, open grasses and scattered trees

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