Brown-headed Cowbird

(Molothrus ater)

Conservation Status
Brown-headed Cowbird
  IUCN Red List

LC - Least Concern


N5B - Secure

SNRB - Unranked Breeding


not listed






7½ to 8¾ in length




Similar Species


Woodland edges, fields, prairies, meadows.
















Common to abundant




The Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union All Seasons Species Occurrence Map

  Class Aves (birds)  


Passeriformes (perching birds)  


Icteridae (New World blackbirds and orioles)  


Molothrus (cowbirds)  

Subordinate Taxa


Sagebrush Cowbird (Molothrus ater artemisiae)

Eastern Cowbird (Molothrus ater ater)

California Cowbird (Molothrus ater californicus)

Dwarf Cowbird (Molothrus ater obscurus)

















Visitor Photos

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Kirk Nelson


Under the bird feeders near the Visitors’ Center

    Brown-headed Cowbird      

Ramona Abrego


Spring mating ritual

    Brown-headed Cowbird   Brown-headed Cowbird  

Lynn Rubey


A female Brown-headed Cowbird in a young sapling in The Big Stone Nation Wildlife Refuge.

    Brown-headed Cowbird      


    Brown-headed Cowbird      


    Brown-headed Cowbird   Brown-headed Cowbird  
    Brown-headed Cowbird      




Brown-headed Cowbird
JMC Nature Photos
  Brown-headed Cowbird  
Brown-headed Cowbird
  Brown-headed Cowbird  
Brown-headed Cowbird
Joshua Mayer
  Brown-headed Cowbird  

Molothrus ater




Visitor Videos

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Other Videos
  Brown-headed Cowbirds (Icteridae: Molothrus ater) Juveniles
Carl Barrentine

Published on Aug 6, 2012

Photographed at the Turtle River State Park, North Dakota (06 August 2012).

  Brown-headed Cow Bird

Uploaded on May 1, 2011

The Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) is a small brood parasitic icterid of temperate to subtropical North America. They are permanent residents in the southern parts of their range; northern birds migrate to the southern United States and Mexico in winter, returning to their summer habitat about March/April.[1]

They resemble New World orioles in general shape but have a finch-like head and beak. Adults have a short finch-like bill and dark eyes. The adult male is mainly iridescent black with a brown head. The adult female is grey with a pale throat and fine streaking on the underparts. (wikipedia)

  Brown-headed Cowbird (Icteridae: Molothrus ater) Female
Carl Barrentine

Uploaded on Jun 25, 2009

Photographed near the Kellys Slough NWR, North Dakota (25 June 2009).

  Brown-headed Cowbird (Icteridae: Molothrus ater) Male
Carl Barrentine

Uploaded on Jun 24, 2009

Photographed near Kellys Slough NWR, North Dakota (24 June 2009).




Visitor Sightings

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  Nicola and Tom

Location: Hampshire, UK

I live in Hampshire, UK.

Over the last week we have noticed 3 Brownheaded Cowbirds in our back garden.
We have listened to its song on your website and it looks and sounds the same. We have woods and fields near by as we live in a village location. We have both been trying to photograph them but without luck (novice birdwatcher and still learning photography)

We notice that one stays around for most of the day but the other 2 disappear quite quickly. The local blackbirds have been trying to shoo it away but he/she is standing their ground.

Can you tell us if they travel this far. There are reported sightings further north around 8 sightings in individual areas but we are near the coast but also inland in the south. If that makes sense.

Would be grateful for feedback.

Apologies if we have contacted you in error but found your website useful.

  John Valo

You already know as much as I have been able to find out. If you have sightings in Sheffield, it is only a matter of time before there are sightings further south. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.

I can’t help but think of the introduction of the European Starling into New York Central Park in 1890. Today the species is common across the continent. The birds eat berries and agricultural crops, and aggressively drive away native bird species. It is considered invasive.

Brown-headed Cowbird is a brood parasite. I expect it will become as unwelcome in your country as the European Starling is in ours.

  Kirk Nelson

Location: Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Long Meadow Lake Unit

Under the bird feeders near the Visitors’ Center

Brown-headed Cowbird  
  M. Dunne

Location: Central Bloomington near 86th & Penn Ave So

Had never seen this bird before. It was unmistakably a male B-H Cowbird in our yard eating seed from a feeder

  Ramona Abrego

Location: Washington County

Spring mating ritual

Brown-headed Cowbird  
  Lynn Rubey

Location: Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge

A female Brown-headed Cowbird in a young sapling in The Big Stone Nation Wildlife Refuge.

Brown-headed Cowbird  

Location: Arlington, Minnesota (Sibley County)

I have never seen this bird before and had to come to this site to figure out what it was.  Today, I have a half a dozen of them pecking at seeds on the ground that fell under my bird feeder. 


Antelope Valley SNA

Avon Hills Forest SNA, North Unit

Banning State Park

Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge

Big Woods Heritage Forest WMA

Blaine Preserve SNA

Blaine Wetland Sanctuary

Blue Devil Valley SNA

Bur Oak WMA

Cannon River Turtle Preserve SNA

Carver Park Reserve

Cedar Mountain SNA

Cherry Grove Blind Valley SNA

Clinton Falls Dwarf Trout Lily SNA

Des Moines River SNA

Falls Creek SNA

Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Glynn Prairie SNA

Gneiss Outcrops SNA

Great River Bluffs State Park

Grey Cloud Dunes SNA

Hastings Sand Coulee SNA

Hole-in-the-Mountain Prairie

Holthe Prairie SNA

Hythecker Prairie SNA

Interstate State Park

Iron Horse Prairie SNA

Joseph A. Tauer Prairie SNA

Kasota Prairie

Keller Regional Park

Lake Byllesby Regional Park

Lake Louise State Park

Lake Maria State Park

Lebanon Hills Regional Park

Lost Valley Prairie SNA

Maplewood State Park

Mary Schmidt Crawford Woods SNA

Miesville Ravine Park Reserve

Minneopa State Park

Minnesota Valley NWR, Black Dog Unit

Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area, Lawrence Unit

Morton Outcrops SNA

Myre-Big Island State Park

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

Ney Nature Center

North Fork Zumbro Woods SNA

Phelps Lake WMA

Pin Oak Prairie SNA

Pine Bend Bluffs SNA

Racine Prairie SNA

Rice Lake State Park

Ripley Esker SNA

Ritter Farm Park

River Terrace Prairie SNA

Rockville County Park

Roscoe Prairie SNA

St. Croix Savanna SNA

Sand Prairie Wildlife Management and Environmental Education Area

Savage Fen SNA

Seven Springs WMA

Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge

Spring Lake Park Reserve

Spring Lake Regional Park

Spring Prairie Preserve

Tamarack Nature Center

Tiedemann WMA

Townsend Woods SNA

Upper Sioux Agency State Park

Vermillion Highlands Research Recreation and WMA

Vermillion River WMA

Westwood Hills Nature Center

Whitetail Woods Regional Park

William O’Brien State Park

Woodbury WMA







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