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Brown-headed Cowbird Photos

Photography by Terry Sohl

My Favorite: Brown-headed Cowbirds aren't exactly everybody's favorite bird. Given their breeding strategy is to lay their eggs in the nests of other species, and let that species raise it's young (often at the expense of its own young), it's hard for people not to anthropomorphize that behavior and think of cowbirds as bad guys. My view on it has changed over the years...they're a native bird, doing what they do, and it's hard to fault them for it. I do admit though my own tolerance gets tested in a situation like photo #12 below, where a lone Brown-headed Cowbird chick in a tiny Chipping Sparrow nest ended up kicking out the two Chipping Sparrow young, and leaving the parents to raise it alone.  Not a behavior most people can really understand and get behind!

While they're not a favorite bird for folks by any means, in the right light, male cowbirds can be uniquely attractive.  This guy was caught taking a bath in a puddle in Minnehaha County, South Dakota in May of 2011.

Brown-headed Cowbird - Molothrus ater

Brown-headed Cowbird 1 - Molothrus ater 

Brown-headed Cowbird 2 - Molothrus ater

Brown-headed Cowbird 3  - Molothrus ater

Brown-headed Cowbird 4 - Molothrus ater

Brown-headed Cowbird 1 

Brown-headed Cowbird 2

Brown-headed Cowbird 3

Brown-headed Cowbird 4

May 9th, 2011 

July 17th, 2004 

May 9th, 2006

July 7th, 2008 

Minnehaha County, South Dakota 

Fort Pierre National Grasslands, S. Dakota 

Minnehaha County, South Dakota 

Pactola Reservoir, South Dakota 

Male cowbird bathing in puddle 

Juvenile cowbird on barbed wire fence 

Female cowbird perched in brush 

Male cowbird foraging on the ground 

Brown-headed Cowbird 5 - Molothrus ater 

Brown-headed Cowbird 6 - Molothrus ater 

Brown-headed Cowbird 7 - Molothrus ater 

Brown-headed Cowbird 8 - Molothrus ater 

Brown-headed Cowbird 5

Brown-headed Cowbird 6

Brown-headed Cowbird 7

Brown-headed Cowbird 8

May 21st, 2009 

May 9th, 2011 

July 5th, 2010 

June 7th, 2020 

Big Sioux Recreation Area, South Dakota 

Minnehaha County, South Dakota 

Badlands National Park, South Dakota 

Minnehaha County, South Dakota 

Female cowbird foraging on the ground 

Male cowbird taking a bath in a puddle 

Female cowbird hanging out on a barbed wire fence 

Male cowbird on wooden fence post 

Brown-headed Cowbird 9 - Molothrus ater 

Brown-headed Cowbird 10 - Molothrus ater 

Brown-headed Cowbird 11 - Molothrus ater 

Brown-headed Cowbird 12 - Molothrus ater 

Brown-headed Cowbird 9

Brown-headed Cowbird 10

Brown-headed Cowbird 11

Brown-headed Cowbird 12

May 5th, 2016 

May 5th, 2016 

May 10th, 2020 

June 16th, 2020 

Lincoln County, South Dakota 

Lincoln County, South Dakota 

Newton Hills State Park, South Dakota 

Brandon, South Dakota 

Male cowbird perched on barbed wire fence 

Male cowbird perched on barbed wire fence 

Male cowbird head-on in a tree 

Baby cowbird in a Chipping Sparrow's nest 

Brown-headed Cowbird 13 - Molothrus ater 

Brown-headed Cowbird 14 - Molothrus ater 



Brown-headed Cowbird 13 

Brown-headed Cowbird 14 



August 9th, 2020

August 9th, 2020



McCook County, South Dakota

McCook County, South Dakota 



Male in an eastern red cedar full of fruit 

Female perched in a dead tree top 



Click here for the species description page for the Brown-headed Cowbird. 

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Please mail any comments/suggestions/additional links for this page to: Terry L. Sohl