Photo Friday: Cow Birds


Thank goodness its Friday! On Fridays I will post a photo from the ranch and discuss the subject. Take a gander and see if you can guess what we are looking at…

When you hear Egret or Heron, what comes to mind? Tall, lanky birds with long, dark colored beaks, wading around water sources, looking for fish. Now when you hear Cow Bird, what do you picture?

This bird, what I affectionately know as the Cow Bird, is actually an egret, and close relative to herons. Drive out in pastures during the summer and you’ll find a colony of these birds perched on the backs of cattle or roaming the ground amongst the herd. You may have also seen photos of similar birds on the backs of elephants and other large animals in Africa. The cattle egret forages on insects, flies, and spiders stirred up around large mammals. I always thought they were picking ticks off the cows, but turns out ticks are a less favored menu item for the cow birds.

When I was younger I remember well being on the tractor all day mowing hay, and using these birds as targets. Since cutting the grass stirs up lots of insects, the cow birds usually flock to a freshly mowed hay pasture. I would try my best to run over the birds (at a brisk 5 mph), not knowing what I would do if I ever actually hit one. They are way too fast to be hit by that big ole tractor.

I remember well seeing cow birds flock in when our pastures were invaded by army worms (a subject I hope I never have to encounter here on Photo Friday). These are catepillars that will march across a field, stripping all leaf material from the plants. These birds will also flock to fires to catch the insects fleeing the smoke and flames. Seeing hundreds of cow birds flock to one place is not a good sign.

Cattle Egret Facts

  • Cattle Egrets originate in Africa, but are now found across the globe; making them a great species for international comparison. There are an estimated 6.7 million of these birds found around the globe
  • These birds are found year-round in Central and South America and along the Gulf Coast, during the summer in most of North America, and have Spring and Summer breeding grounds in the Southeastern States
  • The cattle egret forages on Grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, flies, frogs, and moths
  • On occasion the cattle egret will add small birds, like warblers, when few insects can be found
  • Cattle egrets greatly decrease the number of flies and other insects around large animals
  • These birds nest in trees and lay light blue colored eggs

Do you have any cool stories about the Cow Birds, Cattle Egrets, or what ever you may call them?

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4 Comments

  1. I remember living in FL, and seeing the cow birds all over the place. I still see them here in TN, but not as prevalent. I see more of the Blue Herons on our pond, eating our fish (wish they would take the turtles away)

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  2. We have red tailed hawks that will follow you all day especially at harvest waiting for you to scare up some snacks. When doing tillage the gulls will flock and search every fresh pass to see if you turned up anything good.

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