Jun 21 2012
For weeks I thought that all the brown-headed cowbirds had left Schenley Park, that the females had dumped their eggs in other species’ nests and moved on. But I was wrong.
The cowbirds arrived in mid-April and immediately made themselves noticeable. Males called from the treetops and as many as three puffed and courted a single female. I felt bad for the song sparrows, their most likely victims in Schenley, who would be forced to foster those cowbird eggs-in-the-making.
The cowbirds mated, the females dumped their eggs, and then they disappeared. Or so I thought.
As expected, in late May I saw and heard cowbird fledglings begging from song sparrow parents.
In early June I was surprised to hear male cowbirds singing again. According to the literature they’d never left but had spent the intervening weeks monitoring the host nests to make sure their kids alone survived.
By now the young cowbirds are self-sufficient but they were raised in a song sparrow world. It’s time for them to learn how to be cowbirds (and for their mothers to lay another batch of eggs) so their fathers are singing.
“Hey, kid. You’re a cowbird. Come with me.”
(photo by Brian Herman)
p.s. See Meredith Lombard’s photo of a chipping sparrow foster parent feeding a cowbird fledgling and a Louisiana waterthrush with its baby cowbird. Notice that the foster parent is smaller than the baby.