But they don’t look like cows

I sat this afternoon watching a brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) sing from atop my neighbor’s car.  It reminded me of these photos.  So I figured I might as well share.

A female brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) standing in grass (2009_06_03_021982)

Cowbirds are nest parasites and their growing population puts increased pressure on the reproductive success of other species.  This usually means people hate them, somewhat like they hate house sparrows and European starlings.

A male and a female brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) walking together through the grass (2009_06_03_021993)

But I don’t hate them.  Well, let’s be honest: other than sweet potatoes and yams, I don’t hate anything nature has to offer.

A female brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) perched on a tree branch (2009_04_11_014932)

Besides, have you ever heard cowbirds sing?  What melodious voices!  What beautiful songs!

A male brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) standing in grass as he eats (2009_06_03_021820)

Oh, and the whole idea of nest parasitism is cool.  Since cowbirds evolved to follow herds of bison across the continent, they don’t stop to build nests but instead lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.  Their young even developed a tendency to push other hatchlings and eggs out of the nest to increase their chance of survival.

A female brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) standing in grass (2009_04_11_014938)

And being black birds means they match my affinity for the underdog.  Grackles, crows and ravens, blackbirds…  They just don’t get respect, which makes me like them even more.  They’re worth noticing more than they’re worth hating.

A male brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) standing in tall grass (2009_06_03_021987)

It’s interesting to note that cowbirds are succeeding because we’ve made it hard for them to fail.  We mowed down all the forests and built vast swaths of open fields coupled with plenty of cattle.  That created a perfect environment for them.

6 thoughts on “But they don’t look like cows”

  1. i have to admit that cowbirds are badasses. but…i am not fond of ’em, i can’t lie. Having worked with endangered species like Willow Flycatchers and Black-capped Vireos and knowing one of the reasons their nests fail so often is because of cowbirds…it is frustrating. Seeing an endangered species with a fledgling cowbird and none of their own…it’s a bummer . But! They are kinda pretty and they have some cool vocalizations, this is true !

  2. 🙂 Pot calling the kettle black, after all. A growing population that puts increased pressure on the reproductive success of other species . . . we’re complaining about the starlings and cowbirds?

  3. I used to hate Brown-headed Cowbirds, and they’re still not my favorite birds, but I learned last week–even before I read your post–that they evolved their nest parasitism because they followed the bison. So, I have a little more respect for them now. And, after all, we do have to agree with Dale (Comment #4), don’t we?

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