Thursday, November 20, 2008

Texas Cow Birds

Growing up in rural Texas, I've seen my fair share of cows. I even helped pay for college working weekends and summers on a farm, among a myriad of other interesting jobs. And for as long as I can remember, there have almost always been cow birds wandering among (or perched atop) the cattle. Big white, graceful cow birds. And that's what I'd always heard them called, simply "cow birds."

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It wasn't until a few years back that I saw a picture of a cowbird in a magazine, and instantly I knew there was something wrong. (I'm kinda smart that way.) So I went to someone I figured should know — a farmer. I showed him the dark little thing the editors had obviously mislabeled, and asked him what he thought. He shrugged and nodded toward the white specks in his field. "Well, now, the difference is, them's Texas cow birds. Bigger an' pertier'n everbody else's."

click image to enlargeCattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)

Okay, so maybe that's not exactly the way it happened, but nonetheless I was very familiar with Cattle Egrets long before I knew their real name. And living in coastal Texas, we still have plenty of chances to see these atypical egrets year-round on a pretty regular basis.

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Unlike most herons, Cattle Egrets generally prefer foraging in grass to wading in water. They can be found in fields and pastures around the area, especially where there are cattle grazing and disturbing the crickets and other insects that make up the greater part of their diet.

click image to enlarge(Click any image to enlarge)

While similar in size and coloring to the Snowy Egret, Cattle Egrets tend to be a little stockier and have a thicker neck. They also have an orange or yellow bill and dirty yellow legs and feet, compared to the Snowy's dark bill and legs and "golden slipper" feet. The immature Cattle Egret sports darker bill, legs and feet.

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non-breeding plumage vs. breeding plumage

During breeding season, the Cattle Egret displays buff-colored patches on its crest, chest and back.

I've read reports that the Cattle Egret population is slowly declining in many parts of North America. From what I can tell, though, the breed is doing just fine here in Texas. They are abundant and going strong, as a Texas cow bird should.

For a great collection of more bird photos and information, check out Bird Photography Weekly #12.

Bird Photography Weekly


Kathi said...

I hear everything's bigger in Texas, so it's right that your "cow birds" would be bigger than the brown-headed cowbirds I see in Ohio.

Nice post!


Anonymous said...

I loved your story on the "Texas Cowbirds" :) It makes sense.

Christopher said...

A very nice collection of photos, Kyle.
Well done ad thanks for sharing them!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful shots! Love the story about the cow birds and the description of them. Now I'm going to go back and check my egret photos to make sure it was a snowy white and not a cattle egret. I know nothing about birds. :-)

Anonymous said...

All I ever remember is the cow birds, too. I bet you even remember when we rode across the channel and going to Bolivar that we would see the "ferry birds"

Anonymous said...

Hi from Nebraska..I came across your site while looking up an unfamiliar bird we seen today. A friend said it sounded like a Texas cowbird from my description. That it is acording to your pictures and description. Very gentle and cold as we got our first snow in our part of the sandhills yesterday. We worry about this guy and wonder why it is up here? We had some snow geese go over a couple days ago..might it mistaken them for other cowbirds? Anyway, thought you'd like to know we have one of your birds here in the sandhills of Nebraska! lol

BL said...

Great blog! I stumbled across it trying to find out the difference between an egret and what I grew up calling "cow birds". (I'm from Texas) I think they are one and the same. Thanks!

leslie.conner said...

I found your blog while googling cow bird images. Just moved to Texas and a pasture close to our house has these, they are so pretty and fun to watch! Now I know what they are, thanks!

Anonymous said...

I have been watching a group of 8 of these birds for several weeks around our area. They are always with what ever cows they can find. Great to be able to identify them finally. They are a long way from home ... Ballarat, S.E. of Australia!