(Molothrus ater) Blackbird family
Called also : BROWN-HEADED ORIOLE ; COW-PEN BIRD ; COW BLACKBIRD ; COW BUNTING
Length7 to 8 inches. About one-fifth smaller than the robin.
MaleIridescent black, with head, neck, and breast glistening brown. Bill dark brown, feet brownish.
FemaleDull grayish-brown above, a shade lighter below, and streaked with paler shades of brown.
RangeUnited States, from coast to coast. North into British America, south into Mexico.
MigrationsMarch. November. Common summer resident.
The cowbird takes its name from its habit of walking about among the cattle in the pasture, picking up the small insects which the cattle disturb in their grazing. The bird may often be seen within a foot or two of the nose of a cow or heifer, walking briskly about like a miniature hen, intently watching for its insect prey.
Its marital and domestic character is thoroughly bad.
Polygamous and utterly irresponsible for its offspring, this bird forms a striking contrast to other feathered neighbors, and indeed is almost an anomaly in the animal kingdom. In the breeding season an unnatural mother may be seen skulking about in the trees and shrubbery, seeking for nests in which to place a surreptitious egg, never imposing it upon a bird of its size, but selecting in a cowardly way a small nest, as that of the vireos or warblers or chipping sparrows, and there leaving the hatching and care of its young to the tender mercies of some already burdened little mother. It has been seen to remove an egg from the nest of the red-eyed vireo in order to place one of its own in its place. Not finding a convenient nest, it will even drop its eggs on the ground, trusting them to merciless fate, or, still worse, devouring them. The eggs are nearly an inch long, white speckled with brown or gray.
Cowbirds are gregarious. The ungrateful young birds, as soon as they are able to go roaming, leave their foster-parents and join the flock of their own kind. In keeping with its unclean habits and unholy life and character, the cowbird’s ordinary note is a gurgling, rasping whistle, followed by a few sharp notes.