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Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater


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Brown-headed Cowbird, male
credit: Jmalik/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Icteridae, Blackbirds and Orioles view all from this family

Description ADULT MALE Has a dark brown hood and otherwise blackish plumage, with a green sheen in good light. ADULT FEMALE Plain brown overall, darkest on wings and tail; note the subtly pale throat, malar stripe, and eye surround and supercilium. JUVENILE Similar to adult female, but with pale feather margins on back, faint pale wing bars, and streaked underparts.

Dimensions Length: 6-8" (15-20 cm)

Habitat Common and widespread in farmland and open habitats. Resident in south of range but a migrant summer visitor (present mainly Apr-Aug) to northern and interior regions. Range and population expanded greatly during 19th century: Benefited from forest clearance and creation of farmland.

Observation Tips Hard to miss.

Range Florida, Texas, Mid-Atlantic, Plains, Eastern Canada, Northwest, Southeast, New England, Western Canada, California, Southwest, Alaska, Great Lakes, Rocky Mountains

Voice Song is a couple of quacking gurgles followed by a thin, upslurred whistle; call is a rattling krrr'k.

Discussion Widespread and familiar open country bird, reviled in some quarters because of the impact its nest-parasitizing lifestyle has on songbirds. Effect on certain endangered species is undeniable but, as with most things in natural world, the story behind many species' decline is seldom clear-cut. Sexes are dissimilar.