About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Brown-headed Cowbird: Bad Bird or Scapegoat for humans’ bad behavior

Are there bad birds? Brown-headed Cowbirds are parasitic birds. They lay up to 40 eggs per season in a variety of other songbirds’ nests for them to foster their young. This parasitism may be one cause in the general decrease in numbers of songbirds in North America

But Mother Nature had a plan with which humans have interfered. Development has caused fragmentation of forest habitat and resulted in a great increase in the edge habitats favored by Brown-headed Cowbirds, and a reduction of forest-interior habitats where they don’t like to venture. As a result, a number of forest birds' nests are now being used by Brown-headed Cowbirds at an increased rate.

Cowbird control in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan is believed widely to have saved the Kirtland’s Warbler from extinction and to have played a key role in population increases in the past 15 years. However, there was no growth in the warbler’s population for the first 17 years of cowbird control, and a large fire that preceded the recent population increase may instead have been the primary benefactor of the Kirtland’s Warbler.

There are also reasons cowbird control can be counterproductive. It diverts attention from the loss and degradation of breeding habitat which is the real problem for endangered birds. The money spent on cowbird control might produce greater benefits if it were spent on other management options.

And while I think it’s sad to see a tiny bird trying to fill the gapping mouth of a giant baby cowbird, they are only doing today what they have done for thousands of years.

Thank you Rodney Campbell for sharing your photo!
Source: Trash Birds - The Brown-headed Cowbird http://www.aba.org/birding/v36n4p374.pdf

Related Articles:
- How Do Cowbirds Learn to Sing? http://goo.gl/Y9HNDM
- How young cowbirds know they're cowbirds http://goo.gl/Jgmavd
- More about Cowbirds http://goo.gl/b1PkOd
- If cowbirds were in the summer Olympics http://goo.gl/Rajjtf

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