The Brown-headed Cowbird
was originally a bird of the Great Plains, following herds of bison and feeding
on the insects that were stirred up. It has undoubtedly benefited greatly
from man's alteration of the landscape and introduction of grazing cattle in all
parts of the country. Cowbirds' claim to fame, however, is its
characteristic brood parasitism. As with all cowbirds, it lays its eggs in
the nests of other species, leaving the host species to raise its young.
Over 125 different species have been known to unwittingly raise the young of
Brown-headed Cowbirds. Many species, such as Kirtland's Warbler, are
endangered or threatened, partially because of cowbird parasitism. A male
is shown in the photo to the right.
Habitat: Prefers open to semi-open habitats, including woodland
edges, riparian areas, farms, prairies, and residential areas.
Diet: Seeds and insects.
Behavior: Primarily forages by walking along the
ground. They also often associate with cattle, horses, or wild bison,
following the large animals and picking off insects stirred up. They
will also sometimes perch on the backs of these large mammals, and it is
thought they may pick ticks and insects off of the animals' backs.
Nesting: May through August. No nesting occurs,
Brown-headed Cowbirds lay eggs in the nests of other bird species. One
female can be a very prolific egg-layer, laying one egg per day in the nest of
another bird for up to a month or more.
Song: Series of low bubbly notes followed by thin
Migration: Populations throughout most of the Northern U.S. and higher elevations of the
West move southward in the fall.
Similar Species: In South Dakota, adult male distinctive, with
obvious brown head. At a distance could possibly be confused with Brewer's
Blackbird. Also similar to other cowbird species
not found in South Dakota, including Shiny
Cowbird and Bronzed Cowbird.
Bird Feeders: Will attend feeders for
various seeds and grains
Cornell University's "All About Birds - Brown-headed Cowbird"
eNature.com: Brown-headed Cowbird
Photo Information: July 7th, 2008 - Pactola
Reservoir, Black Hills of South Dakota - Terry Sohl
Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or
text links below for additional, higher-resolution Brown-headed Cowbird photos.