Monday, May 05, 2008


Every spring, I get a chance to try and right the balance of nature in one small way. Brown Headed cowbirds seem to flock to my feeders just as all of the leaves are exploding onto the trees and the myriad small birds in the neighborhood are building nests and starting families.

Brown Headed Cowbird Male

Cowbirds which are native to the American Great Plains, are birds which lay their eggs in a host bird's nest and allow the host to raise their young. Often, the cowbird chick is larger and more aggressive than the host and either out competes the host chick or simply pushes them out of the nest. Their favorite target is the various migratory tropical species that love to nest around my house, species that are already under real pressure due to habitat destruction, etc.

Cowbird egg in host nest

Cowbirds are not native to this part of North Carolina. They have moved in as deforestation has occurred and we resemble their native prairie. As they have moved in, their ways have decimated many of the afore mentioned species. I try to help them by shooting the female birds around my feeders. The females are easily recognizable by their gray color.

Female Cowbird

I use a pellet gun and am able to get them about half the time without disturbing the other birds too much. By this time of the year, there is a decided shift to more males than females around my feeders. Cowbirds are not particularly cautious! Hopefully I can save a few of our rare birds from this interloper.