Description of the Brown-headed Cowbird


The Brown-headed Cowbird is a blackbird with a thick, dark bill. Glossy black body and brown head.


brown-headed cowbird


Nondescript grayish body with faint streaking on the breast.  Depending on lighting and age may appear brown as in the photo below.

brown-headed cowbird

Seasonal change in appearance



Similar to adult females but more heavily streaked.


Pastures, fields, roadsides, and woodland edges.


Seeds and insects.


Forages by walking on the ground. Often seen in mixed 'blackbird' flocks. Parasitic nesting habits.


Breeds over much of North America and winters across much of the southern half of the U.S. Populations increasing in some areas but decreasing in others.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Brown-headed Cowbird.

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird's wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species' identification.

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History

Fun Facts

Brown-headed Cowbirds have laid eggs in the nests of over 220 species of birds.

Forest clearing and expansion of agriculture led to the expansion of the Brown-headed Cowbird’s range in North America.


The song is a gurgling whistle.


No nest is built. Instead, the female cowbird lays her eggs in the nests of other birds and leaves them to be incubated and raised by the hosts.

Number: Up to 40 per season.
Color: Whitish with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
- Young hatch at 10-12 days.
- Young fledge (leave the nest) at 10-12 days but remain with the host adults for some time.