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The Amazing Brown-headed Cowbird

Photos and article by Charly Mann

At one time much of the central part of the United States was plains where large herds of Buffalo roamed. In those days the most common bird on prairie was the Brown-headed Cowbird. Males would follow the herds through the prairies picking off insects from the back of bison. Females on the other hand had to fend for themselves, since Buffalo roamed far from the Brown-headed Cowbirds nests. As a result, female cowbirds became one of the few species of birds that were single parents. Over time females longed to follow the Buffalo herd with the males and learned to leave their eggs in the nests of other species of birds. Some birds actually recognize that the "new" eggs they found in their nests are not their own and destroy them. Because of this, Cowbirds have to be more sexually active than most birds to produce more eggs. Unlike many bird species cowbirds are highly promiscuous.

Brown-headed Cowbird
Male Brown-headed Cowbird photographed near Bartlesville, Oklahoma

The Brown-headed Cowbird is called a brood parasite because the female lays her eggs in the nest of other bird species. There are more than 140 bird species that have been documented as becoming hosts of Brown-headed cowbirds' offspring including the Eastern Meadowlark. Often the female cowbird destroys the eggs already in the nest before she lays her own. The unsuspecting adoptive birds incubate the eggs and then become surrogate parents for the baby cowbird. As the cowbird matures it instinctively leaves its adoptive parents to live with other cowbirds.

Female Brown-headed Cowbird
Female Brown-headed Cowbird living near Barnsdall, Oklahoma

In Oklahoma and Texas thousands of Brown-headed cowbirds are killed every year in the belief they are reducing the population of vireos, warblers, and other songbirds.

Oklahoma Buffalo
Buffalo living in the Oklahoma tall-grass prairie. He is part of a free roaming herd of more than 3,000 that attracts flocks of Brown-headed cowbirds.

The male Brown-headed cowbird has a sleek and dark plumage with a black body and brown head. The female is light brown and not nearly as striking as the male.

Male Brown-headed Cowbird
Brown-headed Cowbird on the lookout for insects and a female 

With the virtual elimination of the Buffalo and the open prairies, Brown-headed Cowbirds now live near farms and open fields to be near to cows.



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Rudy      10:56 AM Thu 10/15/2015

Aw, Nance, thank you so much. I'm as confused as you are as to the nbeumrs of red-wings and cowbirds and even starlings.I think that I will take your advice. Just had a cheese sandwich on toasted hard roll and a big bowl of cream of mushroom soup. I'm feeling the best I have all day.I'm already back on the couch on my perch.Thanks--Nancy http://rluiifh.com [url=http://xsrjmobpabx.com]xsrjmobpabx[/url] [link=http://ysfuzpeuhb.com]ysfuzpeuhb[/link]

Ami      3:04 AM Wed 10/14/2015

I don't know whether to love them or hate them. They're irnntestieg, for sure, and nice looking really. I love the glossy black feathers. They're almost blue-ish. I've seen several in my yard this year and I don't recall seeing them in previous years. I didn't even know they existed till I did a search of all the birds in my area to find out what types we get in our yard. Thanks for the witty article! http://jhyfjpwnj.com [url=http://qzdteqlgic.com]qzdteqlgic[/url] [link=http://atnsayzcte.com]atnsayzcte[/link]

Welma      5:56 PM Tue 10/13/2015

Eclectic RhapsodyThanks for the scripture,<a href="http://hxdgohbvntb.com"> prituce</a> and thoughts! That's interesting about the nests. We had a Brown Thrasher nest in the bush next to my bedroom last year. The nest is nit very wide but it is very deep, from what I can tell anyway. So that might be a Brown Thrasher's nest. It's good that you are so careful and good advice to give about respecting birds space. I bet God smiles and is pleased when we discover the beauty of His creation in all it's splendor.

Nicky      5:55 PM Tue 10/13/2015

Cowbirds have only recently<a href="http://afkxln.com"> srttaed</a> appearing in my area (nw Oregon). The fledglings are so loud and obnoxious as they follow their foster parents around demanding food. But they have some slight redeeming characteristics: they have the most entertaining courtship behavior of any songbird I have seen around here, and a pretty song and a handsome appearance. This spring I was photographing a song sparrow nest in my front yard. I got lots of pictures of the baby in the nest wondered why there was only one baby and why he was kind of odd-looking for a song sparrow but I didn't catch on until he fledged and turned into one of those demanding monsters.Apparently it is one of the mysteries of the ornithological world how cowbirds recognize other cowbirds when they get old enough to mate?

Michelle      2:56 AM Sat 6/27/2015

I was visiting my friend, who lives out on the Prairie in north central Oklahoma. I saw a small bird, brown headed, black body, and another, obviously a female mate, I didn't know what this species was! So I went on a search. WOW, a brown headed cowbird! What a surprise! The information here is wonderful! Thank you so much for this service! Blessings to you!

Uplifting Visions
a guide to happiness, good health, and success
Charly Mann in a Hawaiian shirt
by Charly Mann

From the age of seven I have been enchanted with the idea of living happily ever after, and have made it a life quest to find that answer. I have spoken to hundreds of people – usually older and wiser than me, and read countless books and articles on the subject. In my website Uplifting Visions I share what I consider the best insights I have learned about achieving happiness in life.

Oklahoma Birds Listed by Color

House Finch - male (carpodacus mexicanus)
Purple Finch - male (carpodacus purpureus)
Northern Cardinal - male (cardinalis cardinalis)
Painted Bunting - male (passerina ciris)
Summer Tanager - male (piranga rubra)

Baltimore Oriole - male (icterus galbula)
Orchard Oriole - male (icterus spurius)

Yellow Warbler (dendroica petechia )
Baltimore Oriole - female (icterus galbula)
Orchard Oriole - female (icterus spurius)
Summer Tanager - female (piranga rubra)
Yellow Goldfinch - male (carduelis tristis)
Western Kingbird (tyrannus verticalis)
Eastern Meadowlark (sturnella magna)

Malard - male (anas platyrhynchos)
Dark-eyed Junco - female (junco hyemalis)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (archilochus colubris)
Painted Bunting - female (passerina ciris)
Green Heron (butorides virescens)

Barn Swallow (hirundo rustica)
Belted Kingfisher (ceryle alcyon)
Blue Jay (cyanocitta cristata)
Blue Grosbeak - male (guiraca caerulea)
Eastern Bluebird (sailia sialis)
Indigo Bunting - male (passerina cyanea)
Purple Martin - male (progne subis)

Great Blue Heron (ardea herodias)
Carolina Chickadee (poecile carolinensis)
Eastern Screech-Owl (otus asio)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (sitta canadensis)
Grey Catbird (dumetella carolinensis)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (regulus calendula)
Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher (tyrannus forficatus)
White-breasted Nuthatch (sitta carolinensis)
Tufted Titmouse (baelophus bicolor)
American Robin (turdus migratorius)
Northern Mockingbird (mimus polyglottos)
Mississippi Kite (ictinia mississippiensis)
Dickcissel (spiza americana)

American Crow (corvus brachyrhynchos)
Brown-headed Cowbird - male (molothrus ater)
European Starling (sturnus vulgaris)
Common Grackle (quiscalus quiscula)
Red-winged Blackbird - male (agelaius phoeniceus)
Spotted Towhee (pipilo maculatus)
Turkey Vulture (cathartes aura)

Black & White
American Bald Eagle (haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Black-billed Magpie (pica hudsonia)
Downey Woodpecker (picoides pubescens)
Red-Bellied Woodpecker (melanerpes carolinus)
Purple Martin - female (progne subis)
Eastern Kingbird (tyrannus tyrannus)
Dark-eyed Junco - male (junco hyemalis)
Loggerhead Shrike (lanius ludovicianus)

American Kestrel (falco sparverius)
Blue Grosbeak - female (guiraca caerulea)
Brown-headed Cowbird - female (molothrus ater)
Brown Thrasher (toxostoma rufum)
Common Nighthawk (chordeiles minor)
Carolina Wren (thryothorus ludovicianus)
Cedar Waxwing (bombycilla cedrorum)
Greater Roadrunner (geococcyx californianus)
Killdeer (charadrius vociferus)
Northern Bobwhite (colinus virginianus)
Red-tailed Hawk (buteo jamaicensis)
Cliff Swallow (petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
Horned Lark (eremophila alpestris)
House Finch - female (carpodacus mexicanus)
Northern Flicker (colaptes auratus)
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (coccyzus americanus)
Mourning Dove (zenaida macroura)
Malard - female (anas platyrhynchos)
Purple Finch - female (carpodacus purpureus)
House Sparrow (passer domesticus)
Indigo Bunting - female (passerina cyanea)
Red-winged Blackbird - female (agelaius phoeniceus)
Spotted Sandpiper (actitis macularia)
Upland Sandpiper (bartramia longicauda)
Northern Cardinal - female (cardinalis cardinalis)
Eastern Screech-Owl (otus asio)
Yellow Goldfinch - female (carduelis tristis)
Canada Goose (branta canadensis)

Wild Birds of Northeast OK

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