Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bronzed Cowbird

Dateline: Wednesday, May 6, 2009. Corpus Christi International Airport. I'm awaiting my flight to Houston, then back to Columbus, Ohio. As far as airports go, I like this place. It's quiet and uncrowded. Houston will not be like this.

Thus, it is a good place to blog about beautiful parasites. And the following bird is a charmer, as far as such things go.

Bronzed Cowbird, Molothrus aeneus, male. Seen well in good light, the males are stunning, with shiny greenish-blue wings that contrast with the glossy black body. The glaring red eye shines like a beacon, and it looks as if someone whapped the bird over the head with a sledgehammer. The crown is quite flat in profile. There's nothing like these cowbirds, and they put the Brown-headed Cowbird to shame in the looks department.

I spent some time photographing cowbirds at the Laguna Atascosa Nat'l Wildlife Refuge visitor's center. They have plenty of feeders and water features, which pull the birds from the arid thorn forests as if by magnet. It was fun to watch everyone come in for quick cooling dips, and it made for great photo ops.

Bronzed Cowbirds are almost exclusively Central American in distribution, just barely nipping into the southernmost U.S. They are abundant at Laguna Atascosa, though - it is one of the most common species encountered.

They are nest parasites, though, with the females laying eggs in unsuspecting songbird host nests. Some species, such as the Yellow Warbler, can recognize the interloper's eggs, and will either abandon the nests or sometime build another on top and start again. But the cowbird's strange strategy works well, obviously, or there would not be so many whistling about the landscape.

Male Bronzed Cowbirds put on quite a show. When agitated or aroused, they often puff up the ruff of feathers around their neck, creating a thick bull-necked appearance. And when wooing a female, they'll hover flight right in front of her, about a foot off the ground. An amazing thing to see.

Hope you enjoyed that short vid of one of the parasitic beasts taking a dip.
Masked Ducks and Alligator Pond will be appearing here sometime soon.


Wil said...

Wonderful shots Jim. Looks like you had a great time in TX.

Dawn Fine said...

Great shots..Looks like you had a great time in Texas!
Hey I really liked the video too..very clear and steady..unlike mine..tee hee..
I mention you and your blog in my latest post..thought maybe you could ID a turtle..or more..

Heather said...

What a neat-looking bird. Is their song anything like that of their Brown-headed cousin?

Looks like you've been doing quite a bit of traveling here lately! I look forward to meeting you at the Birding By Ear weekend at the Wilds at the end of this month!

Golden-winged Warbler serendipity

  A stunning male Golden-winged Warbler perches in a horseshoe-shaped twig - the best perch in an otherwise cluttered scene. Last Tuesday, I...