This spring bird’s name couldn’t be more apropos…
The Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
Brown-headed Cowbirds occur in open or semi-open country and often travel in flocks, sometimes mixed with Red-winged Blackbirds (particularly in spring) and Bobolinks (particularly in fall), as well as Common Grackle or European Starlings. These birds forage on the ground, often following grazing animals such as horses and cows to catch insects stirred up by the larger animals. They mainly eat seeds and insects. Before European settlement, the Brown-headed Cowbird followed bison herds across the prairies. Their parasitic nesting behavior complemented this nomadic lifestyle.
This bird is a small brood parasite: it lays its eggs in the nests of other small passerines (perching birds), particularly those that build cup-like nests. The Brown-headed Cowbird eggs have been documented in nests of at least 220 host species, including hummingbirds and raptors. The young cowbird is fed by the host parents at the expense of their own young. Brown-headed Cowbird females can lay 36 eggs in a season. More than 140 different species of birds are known to have raised young cowbirds.
The Brown-headed Cowbird is typical in general shape but is distinguished by a finch-like head and beak and is smaller than most icterids. The adult male is iridescent black in color with a brown head. The adult female is slightly smaller and is dull grey with a pale throat and very fine streaking on the underparts. The total length is 6.3–8.7 inches and the average wingspan is 14 inches.