Catbird v Cowbird

There’s an ancient battle being played out in the woods and fields of Virginia. It’s Catbird v Cowbird and I have a ringside seat, here in the garden.

Here’s the Gray Catbird. It’s one of my favourite birds. It has a fabulous song, beautiful plumage, a hilarious purring call and strikes an entertaining pose:

Gray Catbird - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Here’s Audubon’s illustration of it:

Audubon - Gray Catbird

Lovely.

I can only just see a hint of its red rump:

Gray Catbird - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

This one purrs amusingly in the bushes and then flies to sing above me:

Gray Catbird - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

I love listening to it:

Gray Catbird - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Its eyes are so dark and its plumage so fine:

Gray Catbird - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Yet in the garden skulks a dark threat: The Brown-Headed Cowbird lurks there:

Brown-Headed Cowbird - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

The Brown-Headed Cowbird is a brood parasite – a cuckoo. It lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. They’re not fussy; they’ve been recorded laying their eggs in 220 different species’ nests, 140 of which have successfully reared their young.

Here’s Audubon’s illustration of the brown female and the black male:

Audubon - Brown-Headed Cowbird

The Gray Catbird, however, has developed the most incredible defence. It learns to recognise the size, shape and pattern of its own first egg and rejects any egg in its nest which doesn’t look like its own. It’s a strange adaptation, but must have been wildly successful as soon as it developed. Grey Catbirds eject Brown-Headed Cowbird eggs more than 95% of the time.

Gray Catbird - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

More power to the Catbird in this age-old never-ending struggle.

Brown-Headed Cowbird - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

May you always outwit the Cowbird.

Previous Post
Barn Swallow - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows and Bank Swallows

I'm surprised to see what I think are Sand Martins here in Virginia. Surely they're not the same species? Then the realisation dawns ... Read more

Next Post
Northern Mockingbird - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Northern Mockingbird

Whenever I've heard a bird singing, here in Virginia, and I haven't been able to recognise its song, it's always been a Mockingbird. ... Read more

Feel free to leave a Reply :)