Warning: this post contains icky forensic birding info and is not for the squeamish or those having a late breakfast...
The same day last week that I talked to the Point Pelee Ranger about the weird molting squirrel in Windsor, I also asked about a strange-looking female brown-headed cowbird who had obligingly hung around my yard long enough for me to get these photos. They aren't the greatest shots, and don't enlarge because they're so cropped, but I think you still can see the odd large bump on the back of her head. My first thought was that it might be a tick, but after checking with Google images for pictures of ticks on birds (gross - not recommended!) I looked through binoculars and decided it probably wasn't a tick. Ticks usually go for the path of least resistance, and attach to the featherless areas around a bird's eye and beak. And even a fully engorged tick is nowhere near the size of the bump on the cowbird, which was almost like it had another head. Hmmm. Anyway, the Ranger said the bird may have been attacked by a predator, and gotten away with a scratch or peck injury, it could even have been a tick that the bird was able to remove most, but not all, of (shudder!) She said it could be anything that broke the skin and then led to infection. Very infected indeed, I'd say. I saw the bird two days in a row, but haven't seen her lately.
Whatever was the cause, it didn't seem to deter suitors. While I watched, two males came up and did their wing-bow display to her. Of course, males also do an aggression display to each other that looks identical, to my human eye at least, so I can't be sure if the males were saying to Ms. Big Head, "Hey baby" or "Get out of my face, you pimple-headed freak!" Wherever she is, I hope she's doing well. And if the birds around here don't treat her right, I know a fuzzy squirrel in Windsor who will give her lots of sympathy and understanding.
To leave you on a more cheery and appealing note, here's a video my friend Nancy in High Country forwarded to me. Very cute!
17 hours ago