NATURE KNOWLEDGE: Lazy Birds

There is a kind of bird who takes the easy way out. They never raise their own babies.

Brown-headed Cowbird (Photo from ALLABOUTBIRDS)

The Brown-headed Cowbird is the Northeastern United States version of bad parenting. All they do is eat and lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.Β  They are very effective though. Usually, the other birds are smaller. When their babies hatch, they are raised by the unsuspecting little “foster parents“.

Eastern Phoebe Nest with a Cowbird egg.

It would all be “Hunky Dorey” if not for one important fact. Cowbird eggs hatch sooner and the babies are bigger than the “host’s” bird babies. The Cowbird babies eat more of the available food and often just push their “foster brothers” out of the nest to their death.

Two babies in a Phoebe nest. The large one is a Brown-headed Cowbird chick.

Some small birds, like the Eastern Phoebes, are dwindling in numbers because of those lazy cowbirds!

One good thing is that the Phoebes have more than one nesting per season to make-up for the first disaster. I’ve yet to find cowbird eggs in a second nest. Doesn’t mean that Cowbirds won’t lay in the same nest again…I just haven’t witnessed it.

An Eastern Phoebe

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11 thoughts on “NATURE KNOWLEDGE: Lazy Birds

  1. They are amazing little guys…they are from the fly-catcher group (I think?) and they can really be fun to watch. I think their song sounds like…”That’s it! She did it!” At least, that’s how my granddaughter and I recognize it πŸ™‚

  2. Because I had a house finch nest on my front porch that had cowbird eggs in it, I was prompted to learn more about them. I even looked into why cowbirds lay their eggs in other’s nest. These birds originally ate the bugs that hung around bison. Since the bison were always on the move, so were the cowbirds. So what they started doing was laying their eggs elsewhere and following their food source. However the cowbird mothers do come back to check on the nest. If the host bird tries to do a pre-emptive move and push out the cowbird egg, there is a high likelihood that the cowbird will retaliate by rampaging the nest. Naturalists call this “mafia behavior”. I tried removing the cowbird eggs from the nest on my porch, and that’s exactly what happened.

    • I’m thrilled to learn more AND that others can read your comment and learn too! You know, I considered (for a moment) removing the egg and thought better of it. Mother Nature knows best and I just want to be her biggest fan not get in her way πŸ˜‰

  3. In Dutch this bird is named a ‘Koekoek’. When we do ‘peekeboo’ with a child, covering our eyes with our hands and then showing our eyes and laugh and say ‘Koekoek’, we play this bird that fools its foster parents.
    The ‘Koekoek’ is a lazy bird and very bad parent indeed, but because it makes such a beautiful sound ‘koekoek’ (it says its name, hence an onomatopoeia) we still love it.

  4. I’m enjoying these interesting and informative posts and they inspire me to delve a little more into the lives of the critters around me.

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