Friday, September 5, 2008


I’m feeling bad because I was kind of down on Brown-headed cowbirds in the post I did last Wednesday, right before Skywatch. Cowbirds are just trying to make a living like everybody else. Most bird enthusiasts will know the story about how they evolved as brood parasites to adapt to their feeding habits of following the buffalo across the open prairie. They would fly to the closest trees, find a warbler or other small bird’s nest, deposit an egg, and move on with the herd. Over millennia, some songbirds adapted for this, recognized the intrusions, and a balance was worked out. But now that we’ve destroyed so many large old forests, and fragmented many into isolated islands of trees, more and more deep woods songbirds, with no adaptations whatsoever, are abruptly subject to cowbird parasitism. A study was done to determine how far into a forest cowbirds will go, so we know what’s happening: we have been giving cowbirds practically unlimited habitat, and they’ve been taking full advantage. Only time will tell how many of our songbirds we will lose. Many species are already stressed form other environmental effects we've caused. We humans do not play well with others, it would seem.

I’m also checking with some of my First Nations (Canada) and Native American (US) friends to see they have any special name for these birds in their languages. Generally speaking, aboriginal peoples had names for all the “important” big birds, like eagles, hawks, or ravens, and all the rest were called by a generic word meaning “small bird.” But given the closeness of native people to the buffalo, and the buffalo to these birds, I wouldn’t be surprised if these birds had their own name. I'll let you know if I find anything out. Meanwhile, I want to make amends to cowbirds; it’s really not their fault about how things are going. So, I am hereby renaming them, in recognition of their original lifestyle following the buffalo herds. From now on they will be known (at least to me) as Buffalo Birds.

Buffalo Bird photo from Wikimedia Commons


Sylvia K said...

I like Buffalo Birds! And considering how we've messed with the enviornment, that's the least we can do! Always enjoy your posts and always learn something. Thank you.

magiceye said...

that was a very interesting post! Heres to the health of Cowbirds!


Anonymous said...

Pteyahpa that is Lakota for cowbird, I was looking for Cherokee found this one first

two good sites for names-

Deborah Godin said...

Thank you, garden path, and good work! I didn't have that Lakota site, and will do a follow-up now. That is so cool!!