Hello again! In my last post I talked about the problem posed by cowbirds for other birds. In this post I’d like to talk about it with you. Cowbirds sneak into other birds’ nest early in the morning and lay one of their eggs, and then they head for the hills, leaving the unwilling hosts to hatch and raise their chicks.
This behavior began back in the days when American Bison roamed om our Great Plains. Back then today’s Cowbirds were called Buffalo Birds by the Plains settlers because they began to follow the herds around, feeding on seeds in the huge piles of Buffalo manure.
Since the birds depended on wandering herds for food, they needed to pack up their little suitcases and hit the dusty trail as well if they wanted to survive. They turned int Roadies for the Buffalo. The problem, of course, is that roadie birds can’t tend their nests. So the buffalo birds started leaving their eggs in the care of other birds, an arrangement that seemed to work pretty darn well, at least for the buffalo birds..
Unfortunately, during the 1800s, the wide sweeping prairies and the buffalo disappeared, replaced by pasture and cattle. The birds remained and started hanging out with cows instead of buffalo, eating insects in the grass, ticks on the livestock, and seeds and grain. So the buffalo bird eventually became known as the cowbird.
Today, the cowbirds still lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, maintaining the parasitic lifestyle of their ancestors. Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of more than 200 other species of birds. It works pretty well for some other species of birds. If the “host” (unwilling and unwitting host !!!) birds are the same size or larger than the cowbird, then their own babies have a fighting chance against the little interlopers.
Unfortunately, many of these birds tend to be smaller species, and in these cases the young cowbirds come to dominate the nests, pushing out the other young or pirating away the food. The result is that cowbird species thrives at the expense of hundreds of others. This is especially critical when it comes to endangered species in the Bird Kingdom.
In “Olivia Ocelot Comes to the Rescue: Adventures in the Rainforest”, a bird named Penelope, an Oropendola bird comes to Olivia Ocelot with this problem. Oropendola birds build their nests in huge colonies in tall rainforest trees. There can be 50 or more nests in one tree. Penelope tells Olivia Ocelot that Cora Cowbird is laying her eggs in their nests, and they are tired of it. The rest of the story in “Olivia Ocelot Comes to the Rescue: Adventures in the Rainforest” is devoted to finding a solution for Penelope Oropendola and her colony of birds. Of course Olivia gets an answer for them.
I found the wonderful photo at the top of this post at the following website: http://www.larkwire.com/library/bird-sounds/1925/Brown-headed-Cowbird-songs-and-calls