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Brown-headed Cowbird
Brown-headed Cowbird

Text by Akshay Manohar

Top © Julia Flanagan
Lower left © Kim Hosen, suburban back yard, Woodbridge, VA; April 2010

Brown-headed Cowbird
Molothrus ater

Family - Icteridae, Blackbirds and Orioles

Sitting on eggs all day long can get very boring. There are places to go, cows to see. And so, the female Brown-Headed Cowbird, like all other cowbirds, just lays her eggs in other birds' nests when no one is looking and flies away to follow anything big and round that goes "moo".

Unlike cuckoos which leave their eggs only in places where there are similar looking eggs, cowbirds will lay their eggs in just about any nest and are known to lay eggs in the nests of over 200 species, many of which are much smaller birds.

Sometimes these eggs are rejected by the bird to whom the nest belongs, but to some birds, eggs are eggs and just need to be sat on. Imagine their utter surprise when the chicks hatch!

But even then, most parents raise the baby Cowbirds as their own. Young Cowbirds grow quickly and eat most of the food. Sometimes, they end up pushing the other babies out of the nest.

Cowbirds can be found all over the United States, except the extreme southeast and Florida. Males are black with glossy brown heads. Females are plain gray-brown and make a squeaky gurgling sound.

They live mainly on agricultural land, fields, woodland edges and some suburban areas.