Cowbirds – The Bird People Love to Hate


The Brown-headed Cowbird is a common, yet often unknown, variety of blackbird found throughout the United States. It most likely got its name from its tendency to hang out in fields where herds of animals (like cows) stir up loads of insects to dine upon.

The male cowbird has a glossy black body with a rich brown hood, the color of coffee with just a touch of cream.


When the male wants to attract the attention of a female ( a rather drab bird of a pale greyish brown color) he will do a bit of a song and dance to try and win her affection, as seen in the photo below.  I wonder if he knows that despite his courtship rituals she will prove to be unfaithful and will accept the advances of several males during the mating season.


And now we come to the reason that some folks simply can’t stand cowbirds – it all boils down to their child rearing strategies.  These birds don’t build nests of their own; instead, when the female is ready to lay an egg she sneaks into another birds nest while it is away.  She then removes or destroys one of the eggs she finds there, and replaces it with one of her own.  Since the egg of the cowbird will hatch sooner and the baby will grow faster, it often survives at the expense of the host bird’s young.  Although some bird species refuse to play the role of foster parent, there are a surprising number who accept the task and willingly raise the young cowbird as one of their own.

Now, before we judge the unfaithful female with the poor parenting skills too harshly, let’s remember, she is just doing what she is wired to do.  And if that doesn’t help, let whoever is without sin throw the first stone!


I find it amazing that once they are grown, these birds are able to locate and join up with their own species.  Cowbirds are quite social birds and tend to congregate in flocks with other blackbirds.