The Brown-headed Cowbird. Feared. Despised. Debated over. A cursed product of forest fragmentation and one of North America's top competitors for infamous birds, right along with European Starlings and the reviled House Sparrow. The cowbird's only competitor to fame are the cuckoos of the Old World, whose ganglike behavior and foul bodily juices have crowned them the title of the cuckoo mafia. To add to everyone's already strong distaste for the species, Cowbirds demonstrate this behavior too. The only saving grace that cowbirds possess is that they're native, which somehow, for most of us birders, makes up for all their atrocious behavior.
Did you know? Almost 100 species of birds have been recorded to display conspecific or intraspecies nest parasitism, many of which are foreign to American ears.
After the villainizing of the Brown-headed Cowbird, it may shock you to learn that cowbird-like behavior, namely, parasitism, is rampant among one of America's most innocent faces and the subject of the name of an ABA camp: the American Avocet. Camp Cowbird just doesn't have the same ring, does it?
Avocets are already a basketcase of weird behavioral traits such as their "Doppler effect" alarm calls and their oddly independent chicks that, much to the jealousy of parents of teenagers worldwide, leave their nest within a day of hatching. So it may not be surprising after all that avocets can sometimes demonstrate egg-laying habits that border on Cowbird Alert.
It may be some comfort to the public image of American Avocets that, unlike cowbirds, avocets are inexperienced in their egg-laying methods and often fall victim themselves to a stray egg from another species which they obliviously raise.
Waterfowl, on the other hand, are not to be ridiculed when it comes to both conspecific and brood parasitism. The entire dabbling duck complex is a basketcase of parasitism and sneaky mother ducks who take any opportunity they can to avoid having to bring up their young, whether it be with another species or their own.
Even worse, there is no strategy or single perpetrator in the rapid egg-laying game that many land-nesting ducks race in, although Redheads and Goldeneyes have been noted as the most offensive players.
Despite what you might think, rising obesity rates would be a blessing for victims of waterfowl brood parasitism, as parasitism seems to be a last resort of desperate ducks who, upon arriving upon their breeding grounds and deciding that they are not fat enough for another vigorous breeding season, deposit their eggs in a fellow duck's nest instead.
Is nothing sacred? Apparently not, as America's springtime symbol has been found to be engaged in behaviors of conspecific parasitism. Coming soon to avian television across the world: You Are Not The Father.