Photo by Jason Jablonski
Bird of the Month: April 2010 by Douglas Gray
While growing up as a kid, I can remember my Grandmother Florence often telling me, “Wayne, if you don’t have anything nice to say; don’t say anything at all.”
So, I will start out by saying the Bird of the Month for this month has a very beautiful and bubbly song (but the niceness kinda stops there).
I went birding yesterday looking for the BOTM and I thought that the bird would end up being a warbler of some type. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any warblers on my hike (…a testament of my poor birdwatching skills?). I did see quite a few different species, but the bird that highlighted itself in my mind was the Brown-headed Cowbird, our Bird of the Month.
People tend to like hawks and eagles even though they catch other birds and animals and shred them to pieces (I think folks like them because they’re very sleek and cool looking). People tend to like ducks and geese even though we sometimes have to make an effort to avoid their droppings (I think folks like them because they’re “cute”). However, people tend NOT to like the Brown-headed Cowbird and I think this is so because this bird is a trickster.
It is known as a trickster because it doesn’t make its own nest, it doesn’t incubate its own eggs, and it doesn’t raise its own young. How is this possible? It’s possible because the Brown-headed Cowbird tricks other birds into providing these services for it. It is what’s known as a “brood parasite”.
The cowbird lies in wait while watching other birds at their nests, and when the opportunity presents itself, it swoops in and lays an egg in the unsuspecting bird’s nest while it’s away. It takes most birds between 30 and 90 minutes to lay an egg. So, how is the cowbird able to sneak in and lay its egg unexpectedly?
Well, it takes most birds 30 to 90 minutes to lay an egg. It takes the Brown-headed Cowbird only 10 to 20seconds to accomplish this feat. While an unsuspecting bird leaves its nest to grab a bite to eat, or perform some other function, the cowbird is able to zip in and zip out with none-the-wiser.
It is known that cowbird eggs have been found in the nests of at least 220 different species of birds. Not all accept the eggs. Some will eject the foreign egg from the nest, while others will build up the nest to cover the strange egg to prevent its incubation. Many birds don’t seem to notice the addition of the strange egg. Even when all the chicks hatch, the strange looking chick often seems to go unnoticed among the others.
The cowbird chicks are usually grotesquely oversized compared to the other chicks in the nest. Because of their larger size, they out-compete the others for food. The host parents try feverishly to keep this monster fed, at the expense of the other chicks (who frequently die).
But hey…these birds do have a very beautiful and bubbly song that they sing!
Jason Jablonski (featured image)
- Dave Fox
- Charles and Sharon Sorenson
- Charles and Sharon Sorenson (Female Cowbird)