No Country for Old Cowbirds

Cowbird.

Cowbird.

This is Passport to Texas

The brown-headed cowbird migrated with bison across the Great Plains, and because it’s hard to raise a family on the road, cowbirds laid their eggs in other birds’ nests; host birds unwittingly raised cowbird young.

The problem with the cowbird eggs is that normally they’re big eggs; they hatch earlier than the host eggs do; and they’re very vocal and hungry and beg for food.

Biologist, Marsha May, says the cowbird hatchlings out compete the host’s offspring for food, starving them out, and reducing populations of that species. Back when bison roamed, cowbirds didn’t have quite the same impact.

Black-capped vireos, which are an endangered species now, evolved where if they were parasitized by a brown-headed cowbird, they would leave that nest and re-nest – start a new nest. Well, if the cowbirds had already moved through, that would have worked.

Without bison, cowbirds hang with cows. Because cows are fenced in and don’t migrate, neither do cowbirds.

They’re parasitizing all the birds in that area – their nests – and they’re having a major impact on some species like the black capped vireo, because the black-capped vireo keeps re-nesting and that’s wasting a lot of energy, and if it’s constantly being parasitized, then no young will be reproduced at all that year.

That’s our show for today… Funding provided in part by Ram Trucks. Guts. Glory. Ram.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

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