A Brown-headed Cowbird and a Texas Longhorn

Remember the magnificent Texas Longhorn I shared in my last post from the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge? Well, the below photo shows an unexpected guest hitching a ride – a Brown-headed Cowbird!

Brown-headed Cowbird perched on a resting Texas Longhorn
Brown-headed Cowbird perched on a resting Texas Longhorn

This little feathered friend perched on the head of a Longhorn wasn’t just enjoying the view. Cowbirds, as their name suggests, have a clever strategy for finding food. They follow grazing animals, like this Longhorn, because as the animals munch on grass, they stir up a smorgasbord of insects – a delicious feast for the cowbirds!

Here’s the scoop on this fascinating feeding behavior:

  • Buffalo Buddies: Before the arrival of cattle, cowbirds followed bison herds across the Great Plains, feasting on the insect buffet created by the bison’s hooves. With the introduction of cows, these opportunistic birds simply adapted and expanded their range alongside these new grazing companions.
  • Insect Bonanza: Believe it or not, up to a quarter of a cowbird’s diet consists of insects like grasshoppers and beetles that get flushed up by grazing animals. They’ll also snatch seeds and grains for a well-rounded meal.
  • Fly-by-Feast: When near cattle or horses, cowbirds transform into tiny aerial acrobats, hovering and beating their wings to catch insects disturbed by the animals’ movements. The males might even put on a little display, raising their feathers and bowing while they hunt.
  • Calcivores with a Twist: Female cowbirds have a special need for calcium to lay their many eggs. This leads them to a somewhat less savory habit – eating snail shells and sometimes even stealing eggs from other birds’ nests, in addition to their insect-catching skills.

So, the next time you see a cowbird perched on a cow or, in this case, a Texas Longhorn resting in the grass, remember the clever strategy at play. These birds are living testaments to adaptation, using their unique feeding technique to thrive in both historical and human-altered landscapes.

By the way, the Longhorn didn’t seem to mind its feathered friend at all. They both seemed to be enjoying their peaceful afternoon on the Wichita Mountains prairie.