Cowbirds: “What’s with this one weird egg?”

Our native North American wildlife is amazing! You might one day see a nest with one egg that looks completely different than those around it. It’s not a mutant and you’re not crazy!

Brown-headed cowbirds are the most common nest parasites in the United States, including here in East Tennessee. Brown-headed cowbirds reproduce by laying their eggs in the nests of other birds. Cowbird eggs have been spotted in everything from hummingbird nests to owls’ nests! When the new cowbirds hatch, the unsuspecting host parents raise them along with their own young.

You might be tempted to “rescue” a host nest from a cowbird egg. Please don’t! Cowbirds aren’t evil; this is simply the way they they reproduce. Like other native birds, brown-headed cowbirds are protected by federal law. Removing a cowbird egg is also likely to cause more harm than good, since studies have found that cowbirds retaliate and destroy nests that rejected their eggs. Please let these incredible animals continue to live and reproduce in the way nature intended!

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