Friday, June 24, 2011

Hungry Cowbird

As we closed out the books for the second week of summer camp at the Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest, we heard outside the office window the distinctive song of a Northern Parula Warbler (Parula americana).  As be brought the camera up for a closeup shot out the window, we noticed that the warbler appeared too large.  It took merely a second before we realized it was a Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) fledgling in the camera's view finder.

However, it took only a few more seconds to see that the Northern Parula Warbler was busy feeding the parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird fledgling.  Cowbirds dump their eggs (up to 40 per season) into the nests of other bird species.  Some species recognize the egg as foreign and will abandon the nest or build over top of the eggs to begin again.  Others do not seem to realize the deception and will feed the larger cowbird chick at the expense of their own young.

It appears that the Northern Parula raised the cowbird chick.  Our question is, "If the Northern Parula nests in Spanish Moss, what bundle of moss was able to support the massive (by comparison) cowbird chick?"

Images by Mark Musselman

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