The Giant Cowbird

Not a Corvid!

Last month we brought you a delightful and silly un-corvid, the Willy Wagtail. This month is a much more sinister subject – the Giant Cowbird (Molothrus oryzivorus).

By Peter VanZoest

The Cowbird one of the few entirely black birds found in Central and South America. It is a quiet bird, particularly for an icterid, but the male has an unpleasant screeched whistle, shweeaa-tpic-tpic. The call is a sharp chek-chik.  Like corvids, they are also very adept mimics.

What sets the birds apart from Crows and Ravens in their behavior is that they are brood parasites, laying eggs in the nests of oropendolas and caciques in the same way Cukoos lay eggs in Crow nests. The eggs are of two types, either whitish and unspotted, or pale blue or green with dark spots and blotches. The host’s eggs and chicks are not destroyed, but there is considerable doubt about the theory that the young Giant Cowbirds benefit the host’s chick by removing and eating parasitic flies. In some cases it has been observed that the cowbird chick will push the others out.

Also like Crows and Jackdaws, the Giant Cowbird is large at 36-40 cm (14 in) long, weighs 180 g (6.3 oz) and is iridescent black, with a long tail, long bill, small head, and a neck ruff which is expanded in display. The female is smaller, averaging 28 cm (11 in) long and weighing 135 g (4.8 oz). She is less iridescent than the male, and the absence of the neck ruff makes her look less small-headed. Juvenile males are similar to the adult male, but browner, and with a pale bill. You can easily tell them apart from crows by noting the beady yellow eye, as well as the tiny skull.

By Tom Davis

10 Really Weird Crow Facts

In our last top ten fact list about Crows we highlighted corvids from a scientific angle – they are intelligent, persistent, prolific, and hardy. In this list, we want to explore some of the stranger things about our favorite critter. Without further ado:

Crows living in suburban areas require only 10% of the nesting territory that crows living in in the wilderness do,  and are much more tolerant of range overlap. They also will build fake nests to fool predators.

Dubbed ‘Anting’ by John Marzluff, crows will crush an ant and rub it all over themselves like perfume! The Formic Acid in the ants helps ward off parasites.

Image of a Black Drongo 'Anting'

Pet crows give their owners names. This is identified by a unique sound they make around specific people that they would not otherwise make.

Female Crows mate for life, but males will cheat, which explains the next one:

Male crows have no penis.  Their sperm is transferred from their cloaca to the female cloaca and copulation only lasts 15 seconds. Its a wonder the females are so loyal!


Crows can count to six!

Crows sunbathe for Vitamin D.

Odin the Crow Sunbathing

Healthy crows help crippled crows but they have a dark side. Crows occasionally murder each other for reasons that mystify scientists.

Crows have been observed chasing sparrows into buildings in order to stun them. The result is sparrow for lunch. Don’t worry, they  pick on birds their own size – mobbing crows can seriously injure hawks.  Scientists suspect an eagle was even killed by mobbing crows.

Crows have been reported to eat over 1000 food items, including insects, worms, berries, birds eggs and nestlings, small mammals, bats, fish, snakes, frogs, salamanders, animal dung, grain, nuts, carrion, fried chicken, hamburgers, Chinese food, french fries, and human vomit. They can be weirdly picky though – an experiment showed crows prefer French fries in a McDonald’s bag over those in a brown paper bag. To top it off, a nestling can eat 100 grasshoppers in 3 hours.

Crow With French Fry

Crow with a French Fry By Richard Brayton

The Chimney Cleaners – Jackdaws on the Roof

Both in the air and on the ground there is an irrepressible jauntiness about jackdaw movements. Yet perhaps the most useful distinguishing feature of this intensely sociable bird is its voice. The full range of calls is complex, although the best known is a monosyllabic, almost dog-like yap, of which the first part of the name is descriptive.

Jackdaws make another loud, resonant alarm note, an almost rook-like grating caw, and it is supposed that the bird’s old name of ‘daw’ is onomatopoeic of this sound. Another middle English word for the bird, Ca or Co is the origin for places such as Kaber in Cumbria, Caville in east Yorkshire and Lancashire’s Cawood.

Despite their wider reputation for guile and itelligence, jackdaws are well known for making heavy weather of the nest itself. They drop sticks into the cavity to make the foundations of the nest.

Sometimes it happens that a nice looking hole communicates with some bigger space below, and the sticks simply drop through. But once the birds have chosen a hole they may continue bringing and dropping in sticks for day and days until a really enormous pile accumulates.’In Hampstead, the workmen removed two or three cartloads of sticks from the towers, where a colony had nested, some people have been known to ‘harvest’ their jackdaw nests as kindling.

Enjoy our featured photographers this week in our nesting Jackdaws series:

By Law Keven

By cazjane97

by Chris Bolton

by Emma Rathbone

By Taco Meeuwsen

By Margareta Starring


Rodriguez Munro

rooks*** by Rodriguez Munro.

When the rooks were laid in piles
by the sides of the road
crashing into the aerials
tangled in the laundery line
and gathered in a field
they were burned in a feathering pyre
with a cold black eye

crow III by Rodriguez Munro.

When the swallows fell from the eaves
and the gulls from the spires
and starlings in the millions
will feed on the ground where they lie
the ambulance men said there’s
nowhere to flee for your life
so we stayed inside
and we’ll sleep until
the world of man is paralyzed

it is me - crow serie by Rodriguez Munro.

Oh the falcon heir awakes
to the sound of the bells
they’re heading southbound
they’re leaving it alive
and each empty cage just rings
and is heard like a bell
underneath these cold stars
and this troubled night
and the cries of man
let the kingdom come to nigh
let this dream be realized

what we are. - crow serie by Rodriguez Munro.

*play dead by Rodriguez Munro.

View the entire series here

(Poem from Shearwater – Rooks)