[CT Birds] Cowbird observations (and English sparrows)

david bingham dbbingham at sbcglobal.net
Sat Mar 24 01:15:37 EDT 2007

During my lifetime (age 66) I have watched the land use in our Town of Salem 
and surrounding area change dramatically. Fortunately, it is still very 
rural, but there were 33 dairy farms and now there are none. A number of the 
farms now have horses, but nowhere near the number of domestic animals 
(cows, beef and sheep) we once had.

Huge flocks of cowbirds were associated with those big farms (they aren't 
called cowbirds because they look like cows, but because they feed on the 
flies and other insects stirred up by the cows and other large domestic 
animals, and larvae reproducing in their dung). The number of cowbirds I now 
see is a fraction of the number I once saw before my old horses died.

While cowbirds are definitely a field/forest "edge" bird, I find them nowher 
near as abundant in clearings in the forest, or in edges along streambanks 
and rural highways where there are grassy areas adwith adjacent forest, as 
long as there are not a lot of domestic livestock around. The birds are 
really more associated with people and their livestock than they are with 
"edge" habitats per se, in my experience.

I can walk for miles through areas of farmland that are used for crops and 
hay, and as long as there is no cow or horse manure applied for fertilizer 
(we use chicken manure - nasty but grows great hay!), I tend to see few 

English sparrows and Starlings, too, are closely associated with livestock, 
especially horses, and people - the further I get from houses and barns, the 
fewer of them I see.

I manage a lot of our farm, and Walden Preserve, for grassland and early 
succession (about 100 acres). We have a lot of grassland/shrubland/forest 
edge, but relatively few cowbirds, starlings or English sparrows except near 
buildings where there is livestock. Along Route 11, where there are very few 
buildings, those are uncommon birds, while the grassland/shrubland warblers, 
vireos, bluebirds and sparrows seem to be doing well.

I wonder if others have had similar observations?
David Bingham

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