Cowgirls and Cow Birds

Daniel, my son age 6, recently spotted the arrival of rather dull, brownish/gray, ground-feeding birds with no song of note in the mix of our Hummingbirds, Goldfinches, Cardinals and house finches.

This bird was about 7" tall when mature, but over these last few weeks we had encountered many immature birds of the same markings scattered in the broods of our baby finches and chickadees, as they trained with their parents. It was strange to see such a big baby in the mix.

The dull birds were more aggressive than the finer, more colorful birds we typically attract, and they were much dirtier (i.e. bird poop everywhere all of the sudden). These birds had no obvious trait of adoration that we could relate to, other than they are part of the grand scheme of nature and deserve our respect.

"What's going on?" we had been wondering for weeks.

Finally, we pulled out the books and charts, located a picture of the bird we thought we were seeing and were amazed to learn that this so-called "Cow Bird" is the only parasitic bird in the state of Maryland. The description went on to inform us that Cow Birds never build nests. Instead, they lay eggs in the nests of others with the expectation that these birds will raise their young. 

Usually, that is exactly what happens, sometimes even at the expense of the hard-working nested bird's own young!

At our local bird store we confirmed what we had learned. Two options were offered to us as ways to stop attracting Cow Birds: 1) stop feeding all of the birds, and 2) feed millet to the Cow Birds to keep them in a specific area of the yard.

I am not sure what we'll decide to do.


  1. Those cow birds are a nasty bunch. We have them in Georgia. Don't see them in the urban-ness of Cambridge, Ma.

    It would seem a shame to lose all the other birds. I vote for trying to keep the cow birds separate.

  2. Okay, you are the only post so I'm taking your vote, girl. The feeders went...I'll be watching.

    BTW - why are they here now? Farmlands are vanishing, and with them the cows that were always their hosts.