Brown-Headed Cowbird

I was sitting on my back porch watching to confirm the arrival of my purple martins to their nesting boxes, and while watching, a brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) came to our feeder, just over my left shoulder.  With camera in hand, I snapped a few photos and watched this male feed, sing and strut.


The brown-headed cowbird is a stocky blackbird with a fascinating approach to raising its young.  Females forgo building nests and instead put all their energy into producing eggs, sometimes more than three dozen a summer.


These they lay in the nests of other birds, abandoning their young to foster parents, usually at the expense of at least some of the host’s own chicks.  Once confined to the open grasslands of middle North America, cowbirds have surged in numbers and range as humans built towns and cleared woods.


Brown-headed cowbirds are smallish blackbirds, with a shorter tail and thicker head than most other blackbirds.  The bill has a distinctive shape, and is shorter and thicker-based than other blackbirds, almost being finch-like at first glance.  In flight, look for the shorter tail.


Male brown-headed cowbirds have glossy black plumage and a rich brown head that often looks black in poor lighting or at distance.  Female brown-headed cowbirds are plain brown birds, lightest on the head and underparts, with fine streaking on the belly and a dark eye.


In breeding season, male displays by fluffing up body feathers, partly spreading wings and tail, and bowing deeply while singing.


Brown-headed cowbirds feed on the ground in mixed-species groups of blackbirds and starlings.  Males gather on lawns to strut and display for mates.  Females prowl woodlands and edges in search of nests.  Brown-headed cowbirds are noisy, making a multitude of clicks, whistles and chatter-like calls in addition to a flowing, gurgling song.


You’ll find brown-headed cowbirds in many open habitats, such as fields, pastures, meadows, forest edges, and lawns.  When not displaying or feeding on the ground, they often perch high on prominent tree branches.


This bird eats seeds and insects.  Seeds (including those of grasses, weeds, and waste grain) make up about half of diet in summer and more than 90% in winter.  The difference of the diet is mostly insects, especially grasshoppers, beetles, and caterpillars, plus many others, also spiders and millipedes.


Cowbird parasitism reminds me of Socialists Democrats.  Although capable of caring for themselves if they had a work ethic, they unload themselves onto society and expect working Republicans to care for their needs.

The following YouTube video is of a singing brown-headed cowbird:



Also coming to the feeder was a white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). 


This sparrow has distinctive yellow lores between the bill and eyes.


They are a common species that winters in Maryland and points south, but generally breeds from Pennsylvania, north through much of Canada.


They eat primarily seeds and fruit, and may often nest on the ground or near the ground.  They can live up to nine-years in the wild.