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National Bird Project - Vote for Canada's National Bird
National Bird Project - Vote for Canada's National Bird

Songbirds

Brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater )

Votes: 24


Brown-headed cowbird
Photo illustration: Canadian Geographic; Photo: George Whalen / CG Photo Club

These blackbirds engage in nest parasitism, meaning that rather than building nests, they leave their eggs (as many as three dozen in one breeding season) in the nests of other birds, where their young are unwittingly fostered. Cowbirds, historically a grassland species, have surged in number in North America since humans began clearing woods and building towns. Read Jay Ingram's essay (below) to find out why he's voting for this bird as a national emblem.

IDENTIFICATION
(Both Sexes)
Weight 38–50 g
Length 16–22 cm
Wingspan 32–38 cm
Brown-headed cowbird range map
Range map courtesy iBird for Windows
Click to enlarge

Vote for the Brown-headed cowbird for Canada’s National Bird


Essays

Comments and essays appear in the language in which they were submitted

Admirably adaptable strategist

I nominate the brown-headed cowbird as Canada’s national bird. Yes, even though the cowbird is almost universally reviled, I nominate it as a reminder of the invisible human hand in the environment.

I admit it’s not easy to watch a tiny fly-catcher desperately feeding the giant cowbird chick that she has faithfully raised, while losing most of her offspring at the same time. She didn’t volunteer for the task; she was outmanoeuvred. But you have to admit it is a brilliant evolutionary strategy. Why waste time and energy solidifying your genetic future when someone
else will do it for you? This practice, called nest parasitism, has evolved in many species around the world, but the cowbird is the Canadian representative.

Well, OK, it’s in the U.S. too, but when it comes to nature, borders are irrelevant (think whooping cranes). So, why argue that cowbirds should become a permanent reminder of human interference in the environment?

Cowbirds are admirably adaptable: they established themselves in North America
by following the vast bison herds (or even the large mammals of the Pleistocene
before that), eating the insects flushed out of the soil by the ungulates’ hoofs or attracted by their droppings, and for centuries the birds’ range was delimited by those animals. When Europeans did their best to extinguish the bison, was it lights out for the cowbird? No, they simply switched to following cattle.

But they got their big break when we humans began to clear the forests for farmland. That clearing exposed many forest-dwelling birds to cowbirds for the
first time, especially along the forest edge. Not only does that mean that the most vulnerable species simply haven’t had time to adapt to the existence of a bird that will hijack their parenting, it also points the finger of blame squarely at us.

So the revulsion we feel when we see cowbirds victimize some of our most
beautiful songbirds is real. At the same time, we have to admit that we are as
responsible as they are.

Science writer and broadcaster Jay Ingram (@jayingram) was the co-host of Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet show for 16 years. His most recent book is The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimer’s.

i reaLLY LIKE THIS COW BIRD Im SURprised it has nO VoTess, lol and it said cow that is dope lol

Brown headed cow bird is a stunning bird, it should be chosen

brown eye

All of these birds are majestic, but nothing can be as majestic and Canadian as the lovely brown headed cowbird.

I voted for the brown-headed cowbird because it lays its eggs in other birds nets.

It will lay its egg in another bird's nest.

I think the brown headed cowbird should be our national bird because then it can get more appreciated.

I want to vote for the Brown-headed cowbird because he only has 4 votes and I feel bad for him.

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