This weekend while I was exploring the Shawangunk Grasslands in Ulster County, New York, with my parents (more on that later) we came across a juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird that was positively begging to be photographed.  Actually, it wasn’t begging at all, which is a good thing, as I hate seeing these greedy little monsters begging for food from a bird that is half their size.  What am I talking about?  Brown-headed Cowbirds are a brood parasite, which means that the female lays her eggs in other birds’ nests, the young cowbirds out compete their foster siblings, and cowbirds are usually the only ones to survive to fledging in the nests that they occupy.  It is not an unusual sight to see a Yellow Warbler (or other small species) doing its best to feed a young cowbird that is much bigger than it!  So, when I say that I am glad to see a cowbird not begging what I am really saying is that I am glad that I didn’t have to see some small bird struggling to stuff enough food down a cowbird’s throat to keep it satiated.

Anyway, despite the cowbird’s obnoxious survival strategies (and, yes, I am placing a value-judgement on it, if ou have a problem with that, well, tough) this particular youngster looked eminently photogenic in the mid-morning light and it lingered in front of me for long enough for me to be unable to resist taking some shots.  Note the pale fringing to the feathers on the back and the fine streaking on the belly: these are sure-fire signs that this bird is a juvenile.  Later, if it is a male, it will go through a patchwork-like molt as it acquires its black plumage with the namesake brown head.

Though I am not at all a fan of the Brown-headed Cowbird I do admire their tenacity and ability to survive…

This post has been submitted to Bird Photography Weekly #48.  Go check it out!

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.