Thursday, 19 June 2014

Juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird

Juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater
19 June 2014

    As mentioned in an earlier post we have witnessed a juvenile cowbird being fed by a surrogate Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina parent four years in a row in our backyard.
    Today, Miriam took these charming pictures of this juvenile bird, which has truly inherited the art of begging for food, for it cheeps loudly and flutters its wings the moment its unwitting parent comes anywhere near it. 

    Miriam and I both observed the young cowbird being also fed by a Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia, and there is ample evidence in the literature of young birds being fed by species other than their parents and it is thought that they simply respond to the solicitation behaviour of the young bird, which they are apparently unable to resist.
    But this evening while enjoying dinner on the patio we actually saw two juvenile Brown-headed Cowbirds, one being fed by a Chipping Sparrow and one by a Song Sparrow. Not only do we have the incredible good fortune to have one example of brood parasitism right before our eyes, we now have two. So far we have been unable to capture the Song Sparrow with its begging youngster on camera, but we will keep trying.

    Some years ago we naturalized our backyard, taking out all the grass, planting native species of trees and plants, including milkweed for the Monarch butterflies, and we are inclined to believe that this contributes towards the diversity of bird life and other life forms we see on a regular basis.
     This is the third host species we have now seen feeding Brown-headed Cowbird offspring and we consider ourselves very fortunate indeed. I realize that brood parasitism may pose a threat to certain endangered species, but for us, being able to witness these events is just another window into the wonderful world of nature writ large.


  1. I know a lot of people don't think too highly of the cowbird's rearing practices, but it's nature's way. Really sweet shots of these babies! I have a house finch couple that are feeding a baby cowbird, but it's way in the back of my yard and I can't get any good photos. We are in the process of naturalizing out back yard, much to the chagrin of our neighbours!

    1. It's amazing to me that people pass judgement on the ways of natures based on their own anthropogenic interpretation. Cowbirds and their breeding practices are as valid a part of the natural order as is everything else.

  2. Beautiful photos of the juvenile cowbird.
    Always lovely to see the young birds begging for food.
    Best regards, Irma

  3. Fabulous photographs! You were lucky, that you were able to photograph this young bird.

  4. Fascinated to hear about your back yard, as well as the account of the Cowbird (nicely illustrated with Miriam's photos), David. Does a 'naturalised' back yard take as much looking after as 'gardened' one? I struggle to keep our small patch groomed as I'd rather be doing something else - but I can't see my wife agreeing to 'naturalisation'!

    Best wishes to you both - - Richard

  5. Wonderful photos of the young birds ! Great shots !

  6. I agree David. In the grand scheme of nature your one or two examples have no impact. Far better that we are all educated in the weird and wonderful real world.

  7. great photos from Miriam David, beautiful little bird to admire so closely

  8. You are fantastic photographer and you ,cancapture the tnie beay of noture.

  9. Wonderful photos of this cute little bird. Amazing !
    Best regards, Synnöve

  10. Oh how beautiful that little thing.
    Greetings Tinie

  11. Ohhhhhhh ... this really great pictures of the juvenile.
    Sharp, bright and beautiful details.
    My compliments David!