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Thread subject: An observation from my window
Name Date Message
Shelley 07/24/12 08:27 pm For the last several days, I have been entertained watching yet another generation of baby cowbirds being raised by chipping sparrows. I'm sure momma chippy must be exhausted and probably not as amused as I am, but I have to hand it to her: she is a good momma! As she shuffles around in the seed spill beneath my feeder, baby moo (as I like to call the cowbird) follows her around like a shadow. He is probably twice her size, easily, yet he is really such a baby! He calls and begs relentlessly (think DPOF chicks, on a much smaller scale). When she finally finds a suitable seed, she turns around and there he is, mouth wide open, his whole body twittering. It's funny, how he does that. His wings flutter madly, but in small flutters, not like he is planning on lifting off. And his entire body seems to flutter, too. I watch through my binoculars and find it hard not to laugh.

It's like my own personal webcam, from my window.

This all gives rise to 2 questions, though. Where are her own chipping sparrow babies? And how does a cowbird learn to be a cowbird, and recognize other cowbirds, if he thinks he is a chipping sparrow?
Celeste 07/25/12 04:48 am It would be interesting to know what makes the cowbird such a parasitic bird. As you know the cowbird looks for nests to lay her eggs and she may even continue to monitor that nest after they are hatched. The cowbird chicks need lots of food and have been known to kick out the "real" chicks of their hosts from the nest. She uses smaller songbird nests for her targets, and is blamed for the decline of endangered species, like warblers and vireos.
The traits of the chicks fluttering and quickly chirping for food is common. I can be in the house with the windows closed, and I can hear finch chicks, cardinal chicks, all with the same behaviors when begging for food or being fed. Mr. C my famous cardinal. feeds his fluttering, chirping chicks through the summer outside my window after they have fledged.

As far as their traits its all genes according to the different things I have read. There are several articles out there, but here's one that is "written differently"
Shelley 07/25/12 07:28 am What a great article, Celeste, thanks! I have bookmarked it and will look back at his other entries. I like his style!

I have also read that the reason they use the nests of others is because in the past, they used to follow cattle and were seldom in one place long enough to build nests of their own and it is in their DNA to use the nests of others. My readings also tell me that the cowbird eggs are usually larger than the host eggs and hatch sooner, with the chicks developing faster. It is apparently also in the bird's DNA for the mother to place food first in the mouth that is opened the widest, something I did not know! So baby Moo wins out, yet again, it seems. And Again, DNA guides the juvvie to seek out its own kind once it matures. Just how, I have no idea.

I love these Birding 101 lessons! :-)

Nancy L 07/25/12 01:37 pm Thanks, Celeste - that's quite the story of the cowbird.
By the way, coming home from the gym this morning, I saw one of the chicks at the 'Oakdale Merge' nest practising it's lifts. It was about 2 feet above the nest & flapping wildly. I believe the other chick has already fledged. The past two weeks I watched them sitting at the edge of the nest, over-looking the traffic. I've also seen the 'mom' feeding them. It was great to have that nest active this year.
On another note, the nest that is just across from the Arboretum entrance must have failed eggs (like at Dunrovin, Montana) because the female sat there for weeks, but I never saw any chicks.
martyc35 07/25/12 02:21 pm Here's a pic Shelley sent me showing the action she describes here: "Baby" Cowbird on the right, demanding that the "Mom" Sparrow on the left feed it. This is Shelley's photo, only the size has been changed for the web: Link
Celeste 07/25/12 03:16 pm Thanks for the update Nancy. Haven't had a chance to check things out. Really appreciate the update!:-)
Nancy L 07/27/12 11:33 am The Oakdale Merge nest is empty today. They have all fledged.
Lyn 07/28/12 01:29 pm Not only interesting but fun to read about these most ingenious of bird species.
Pam 07/29/12 05:24 pm What an interesting view from your window Shelley and a great photo of Baby Moo ! Thanks too to Celeste for her link to that very amusing article. I had never heard of Cowbirds until 2010 when I saw a stray one at Race Rocks - Sibley came in very handy at that time as I had no idea what it was :-)
Anne-UK1 07/30/12 04:47 pm I've not heard of the, or their behaviour. From the photo Marty posted they look like a big fat sparrow, so I can see why real sparrows are fooled.

I'll read Celeste's article later, when my brain's sharp enough to take in the info. Fascinating stuff, that's for sure.

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