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Old 04-12-2012, 04:14 AM   #1
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Default More about Cowbirds

Cow birds hang in swarms around cows and eat bugs, yes. One female can lay 40- 60 eggs in a breeding season. Each one in a nest of 3 - 4 song birds. So one female can spell the demise of 240 songbirds in the worst case scenario. They will return to the nest and cannibalize the other eggs and if one of the song birds do hatch they have been recorded on cameras pushing them out of the nest. This is behavior that the guys at the Kerr wildlife Reserve filmed on a webcam. They think that more than one cow bird came and brutalized the songbirds and fed the baby cowbird. So this might be group behavior. It takes a flock to raise a babe.

In one of the sites I listed below is a picture of Cowbirds at a dairy in California. There are 60 birds in the photo. Do the numbers. Say, 1/3 are female. That is 20 females. That means that just those birds in that photo will be capable of parasitizing 7,200 songbirds. I went to a feed lot to get the cowbirds for my trap and he had 100 birds in a cage and behind him was thousands of cow birds everywhere I looked.


Griffith Wildlife Biology-Cowbird Control

http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publicat...w7000_1148.pdf
Cowbird Control
DNR - Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
Fact Sheet: Brown-Headed Cowbirds: From Buffalo Birds to Modern Scourge - Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center - National Zoo| FONZ

Unlike in the prairies where the large herds of buffalo roamed and the resident birds learned to abandoned their nest when a cowbird egg appeared or defend and push the offending egg out, Birds in my area do not have this passed down learned behavior. I live in the canyonlands of Central Texas. It is wooded brush and parkland here, a mixture of grasslands and thick brushy woods and deep rough land in places. If we had buffalo back in the day, we had a stray or a small family unit and the birds were not a prevalent force until the advent of cattle and staionary animal herds..

Cowbirds have proliferated like inavasives in areas that they were not before. California has problems since 1900. Cowbird populations are growing exponentioally outside their native range. Believe me , they are a problem for the birds in my area.

My wildlife plan requires me to control their populations. Mater of fact 1/3 of my plan is predator control. I am required to address Feral cat population, out of balanced raccoon populations, out of balanced deer population, wild boar populations, fire ant hills. This means that many knowledgeable people, more knowledgable than me, have decided that it would be in the wildlife's better interest for me to "KILL" some animals, yes, I said KILL . I need to act like a predator. I am not happy about doing this. I use humor to make my peace with it. I am sorry that some here saw it as bragging. It wasn't. It was Irony.

Yes, I wish that cowbirds could adjust to modern life but baring the arrival of a bird whisperer that could give every cowbird in my neighborhood some parenting classes , I will continue to protect the endangered population of black-caped virios and endangered Golden cheeked warblers that are on my property along with the host of other species targeted by the cowbird. I have seen them and I want to continue to see them.

This unpleasant aspect of the effort of land conservation has been emphasized and increased by last years drought. I was informed by the the powers that be that they were increasing deer limits for all hunters this last winter because the land was in such sorry shape. TPWD was worried that the there just was not forage in the brush for the deer. That deer were going to wreak havoc on the land, damage that was years in resolving. They wreak havoc on a good year down here. Tree species are going extinct because of the deer foraging. They have OKed hunters to kill an extra 30 deer if they kill only does. They want a major deer culling. I still can not bring myself to do this. But I imagine that one day I will, but not today.

One thing I found, when I moved out here and took this task on, is that the caring and treasuring each and every wild animal was tempered by the reality of developing a working system out of land that was out of balance. It is always out of balance from something. COWS, DROUGHT, INVASSIVES, FIRE. I can't afford a gentle sensibility. Maybe I become like the land I live on. rough and scarred, inured to a well watered world. This land will make a bubba out of a northeast progressive city girl. I do know that the flora and fauna have become richer during the years that I have followed their suggestions. The proof is in the pudding.

I did go out there this morning and I saw a yellow billed cuckoo, a red tailed hawk, a roadrunner, chickadee, black phoebee, black crested titmouse, Western scrub jay while I worked outside. Yesterday I saw a cedar break scissors tailed flycatcher on the telephone wire out front. At night I hear Poorwill calls (A western whippoorwill but larger)echoing in the valley, one of my favorite spring nighttime noises. There is more bird call this year. I also have three families of foxes living on the land and a population of ring tailed cats (not a cat). I smelled a skunk yesterday.Armadillos and jack rabbits are common. Last week I saw a crested caracara with some roadkill as I turned out onto the road. I hope it was a deer. We have had painted buntings and tanagers in the past.....NOW, I am bragging.

I am sorry that my views upset some people here. These are the working views of many in the land conservation movement of Texas and other states around.. I have learned these practices from Biologists, from the noted Mr. Bamberger of Selah Ranch, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife, not to mention agricultural extension agency. I guess we have different problems than those in the Northeast and different ways of dealing with them.

I read on this forum that people trap House sparrows up north . I am confused. It is alright to trap a house sparrow but not a cowbird?

There is a great deal of discussion going on amongst the academics and the guys in the field about if Cow bird traps should be used as a crisis management technique and then to back off and not cut into forrest (smithsonian scientist view) creating prime habitat for the cow bird. They like forest edges., Like we will get people to stop cutting into forrest. We will have better luck with parenting classes for the cowbirds. Others say that the birds will learn defense mechanism if they are left with the cow birds, so we should get out of the way. Some of these birds are being driven close to extinction and in a 100 years , they haven't learned defense mechanisms. I just saw a map and they placed Central Texas in a hotspot for the birds.

I did trap last year, but I am not trapping this year. I did not get many birds and my neighbor gave away the cows because they were always running off. So I am off the hook.
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Old 04-12-2012, 07:32 AM   #2
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Thanks for the well written post, Every question that I may have had was answered in the following paragraph. We have similar problems with whitetail deer here in S.E. Michigan, No droughts but plenty of deer/car collisions. Last year my sister lost most of her tomatoes to deer predation and forest's floors are bare due to deer. It sounds like you go to great lengths to protect the warblers, Expanding their nesting areas always works and planting an insect garden with prairie natives would work too. If you feel comfortable raising crickets or meal worms all the insect eating birds would benefit. It seems in area's with lots of development the Hawk and Owl populations never seem never seem to keep up. Use the traps to control what you feel are destroying warblers and their eggs. Another option is finding the actual bird nests and removing the cowbird eggs before they hatch. If you have Vultures they would take care of the clean-up.
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Old 04-12-2012, 08:18 AM   #3
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The Brown-headed cowbird's original range was not all that dissimilar to the original range of the coyote. Many factors contributed to expansion of their natural ranges well beyond the Great Plains as well as to their population explosions.

It has been proven these generalist species successfully adapt to a wide variety of circumstances to the detriment of many locally indigenous species.

The continued delay of meaningful control of either species outside their natural ranges will most assuredly contribute to the further demise of the ecosystems they invade.

Outside their natural ranges, these species are highly invasive. Accolades to those legally capable of humanely destroying them who do.

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Originally Posted by Damianita View Post
I read on this forum that people trap House sparrows up north . I am confused. It is alright to trap a house sparrow but not a cowbird?
Those trapping English house sparrows and European starlings are not confined to the north. Neither is native to North America. Neither is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Brown-headed cowbird is native to grasslands of Midwestern North America. The bird is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
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Old 04-12-2012, 08:37 AM   #4
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I learned a great deal about cowbirds from your post Damianita. You mentioned that on the prairies resident birds learned to "recognize" a cowbird egg and have learned behavior to deal with that egg. I am curious which species respond in this way, and in what regions of the country. perhaps meadowlarks, bobolinks, other species such as those? Do you have a link for that information? I'd love to read more about it. I did spot one cowbird among a flock of grackles the other day in my area. Thanks for all the information you gave.
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Old 04-12-2012, 01:26 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TheLorax View Post

Those trapping English house sparrows and European starlings are not confined to the north. Neither is native to North America. Neither is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Brown-headed cowbird is native to grasslands of Midwestern North America. The bird is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Here is a quote from one of those Texas Parks and wildlife site that I highlighted above.

" However, there are exceptions to this law for acts of depredation by a few select species. Under the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, Section 64.002(c) brown-headed cowbirds are included among this small group of eight non-protected bird species that “may be may be killed when “found committing or about to commit depredations on ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in numbers and in a manner that constitutes a health hazard or other nuisance.” "

I guess as in all laws, there is the fine print. In the long run, I am doing the best that I can with the info that I have.

Beewonderful, I do not know the specific species of the prairie birds that have defensive behaviors. That is outside my research. I just have read that they have I did find a book online that had a few pages for preview and the map had the hotspots for population in Minnesota and Central Texas. Both areas of broken woodlands, there now preferred habitat. This book listed below is $85 but many pages are online available for perusal. I only delved into this last night and read a few pages. I will have to look into this further. The book is a little out of my normal price range. I was able to get into more pages by selecting the chapters below. Very interesting book.

Ecology and Management of Cowbirds and Their Hosts: Studies in the ... - Google Books
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Old 04-12-2012, 03:05 PM   #6
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This is one opinion about Cowbirds but you can google others. It depends on which opinion a person is attempting to backup to convince themselves and others.

Another view does exist. There are countless factors attributing to the decline in songbirds. Short term relief may be felt locally in any given area but this is a bandaid solution to a bigger problem. This approach would amount to a regular persecution and killing of a native species of bird "to keep things in check". I personally find that solution disturbing, if not short sighted and unimaginative.

Studies are ongoing on this subject and it has been determined that the impact cowbirds were having on host species was greatly overestimated. Maybe it would be a good idea to do more research before people start killing them in the name of environmental conservation? Seems like it would to me.

Here is a quote from a website that is more open minded than some.


"The question remains, should we be quick to put all the blame on cowbirds especially when it is our human actions that have allowed cowbirds to expand the range north and east?? And, considering that possibly billions (!) of birds are killed by house cats or feral cats in North America each year (another effect created by humans) maybe the lowly cowbird should not be portrayed as such a menace to the well being of more charismatic bird species. In fact, maybe those students of bird behavior should look at cowbirds and their breeding strategy with greater interest and less contempt."

Maybe we could send the cowbirds off to a reservation somewhere so we can continue to live and expand in a habitat that was once woods or fields. The plight of the American Natives came to my mind on this subject. People invaded that habitat of the songbirds that is in question long before the cowbirds. It seems to me we want our cake and eat it too sometimes.
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Old 04-12-2012, 06:28 PM   #7
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bandaid

Agreed ,,it might be the bandaid, but it is the bandaid that has reduced the parasitism rate from 50% down to something more manageable in many locations in the my area when nothing else was working vey well.

The Smithsonian solution of stopping the opening up of woods and making the patchwork that cowbirds love and that gives access to woodland bird nesting grounds would mean that the US would have to have a regime change. Lumber companies would not be able to lumber, developers would not be able to develop, humans would not be allowed to move into the country and reside where they want . It would mean the end of freedom movement as we know it. It sounds like property rights would be hugely restricted to get that small requirement met. Yes, Cowbird traps are a bandaid in comparison. The Smithsonian solution does not address what to do to all the land that is already opened up, it just addresses stopping human infiltration. The land I live in is naturally opened up in a combination of grassland/woods..

I am still looking for concrete solutions and hearing none except sending all the cowbirds to reservations. By buying my land, I have kept developers from cutting into habitat but the birds are still endangered in the habitat. I would love to stop killing cowbirds. It is not one of my favorite things to do. Now, my neighbor has sold his cows this year but he needs cows to keep his ag exemption and thus keep his land, so I suspect that he will mend his fences and buy another bunch of cows by next year. Maybe changing the tax laws might change the human behavior. Maybe he will go for a wildlife exemption and stop with the cows. That might be a good solution for the small landowner that keeps cows for the exemption but for a meat raising cattle rancher, that solution will not work.

I am impressed by the fact that it is the academics that are saying it is a bandaid and it is the biologist and wildlife managers out in the field that back the cowbird traps. I also think that different things work in different areas. I find that it is the urban wildlife people that are most likely to find the cow bird trap to be a totally repugnant solution, people who ultimately do not have the dilemma of having to make this choice. They have the luxury of condemnation which , which I don't.

I can google and read and buy that $85 book and still I am reduced to looking for solution because what was happening due to non intervention mode of thought was not working. I do have an increase in bird population in the last couple of years. By the way , I do, as stated above, trap feral cats and coons in conjunction with the cowbird control.so there is an improvement there also.
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Old 04-12-2012, 07:08 PM   #8
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I've been inundated with work for a few days and evidently missed some threads. Damianita, I'm sure that everyone at WG would appreciate habitat restoration, which from the sound of things is quite different in the West than it is around here.

I've never been able to bring myself to kill anything except the occasional mosquito, but we don't yet have any rare species nesting in our neighborhood, either. The wrens, cardinals, and chickadees seem to do fine without my interference. BUT--we have so many HOSPS that I've been afraid to put up the bluebird box a friend made for us for Christmas, and the HOSPS here have now learned to like black oil sunflower seed. It's beginning to look as if we're going to have to quit putting out feeders with anything but safflower seed in them. So maybe someday I will become more aggressive with them.
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Old 04-13-2012, 04:40 PM   #9
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My post was not intended to offer a solution to your problem. I was comparing the mentality and justification being used in Texas to the one used to displace the Native American People when they were "a problem" because it reminds me of that.

I have been trying gather information to see if there is really validity to the idea that these birds are as bad as many believe and if its a good thing to kill them in mass numbers. Just because many believe a thing is so, doesn't make it so. There are indications that more study is in order.

Here is a quote from another opinion from One of the Chapters of the Audubon Society. The Santa Barbara Audubon Society.

"While cowbirds are a serious threat to a number of endangered passerines and therefore must be controlled in some circumstances, cowbirds have been demonized to a large extent and blamed for far more damage than they have caused. This demonization has resulted in the excessive use of cowbird control, which deflects attention and funding from the most important threat to endangered songbirds, namely the habitation destruction we have inflicted on ecosystems, especially in riparian areas of the West. Making cowbirds into scapegoats ignores the fact that they have been in North America for at least a million years and are a natural component of its biodiversity."

These birds are protected by federal laws under the Migratory Bird Act of 1918. I am not sure how you are getting around that.
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Old 04-13-2012, 05:27 PM   #10
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I'm from where cowbirds are native but.... I'll say this.... years ago I found a cowbird egg in the cavity our screech owls used to nest in. I examined it very closely.... I shook it real good to see if it sounded like other eggs then shook it again just to make sure and put it back and called it a day. No cowbird egg laid in a screech owl's nest is going to survive....screech owl mommas don't feed their babies insects and I had a tough time thinking about it hatching and starving to death. Hard to say what I'd do if I found 1 in a bluebird or purple martin nest because their numbers are precariously low in my state. Any cowbird egg laid in a bb or pm nest is going to outcompete its nest mates so.... tough call... really a tough call on that. I'm pretty sure I'd just take photos if I found 1 in a robin's nest. If I lived out west where they're not native and.... if I had a permit to remove their eggs.... I can honestly say I wouldn't bother "examining" them closely and I'd just remove them from the nest and put em on the ground so a snake or coon could have a nice snack. Cowbirds are no different than bull frogs on the other side of the Continental Divide.... they're both doing irreversible damage to ecosystems into which they've been introduced. I guess what I do depends.... it depends on a lot of things.
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savannah> "These birds are protected by federal laws under the Migratory Bird Act of 1918. I am not sure how you are getting around that." In regions where they are introduced, they're documented as wreaking havoc so permits are available just like we can get permits to addle mute swan eggs. The permits are issued to protect the "native" species from the non-native species. The gal from Texas is in an area where our Eastern cowbirds never existed before the rise of industrialized agriculture. Try real hard to think of them as mild mannered natives on our side of the rockies and cats on the other side of the Rockies and maybe that will help out a little. On our side.... they belong and they're an integral part of the Great Plains on her side.... they're fierce competitors for scarce resources. I dunno if this helps sort things out but I gave it the 'ole college try!
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