Fun Shiny Cowbird Facts For Kids

Oluniyi Akande
Nov 21, 2022 By Oluniyi Akande
Originally Published on Aug 06, 2021
Edited by Luca Demetriou
Fact-checked by Pradhanya Rao
To learn more about this bird, read these shiny cowbird facts
Age: 3-18
Read time: 7.3 Min

Shiny cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis) belongs to the order Passeriformes, family Icteridae. The shiny cowbird range includes South America, southern Florida, and West Indies. The habitat of this bird includes open and semi-open areas, forests or habitats, and agricultural or cultivated lands with trees and shrubs patches. The diet of this bird consists of insects and seeds and grains found in the ground mostly.

The reproduction or breeding is known to be promiscuous and no nests are built instead shiny cowbird eggs are laid in nests of other or host birds thus, they are known to be a brood parasite. The exact number of eggs laid by the female is unknown. The shiny cowbird is also known to engage in courtship displays in order to attract mates. Chicks leave the nests in 10-12 days. The plumage and appearance of a shiny cowbird depend on the subspecies. While some of them look similar, there are certain differences in males and females of the subspecies. Sexual dimorphism occurs in this species as the males are larger and have dark bodies than a female shiny cowbird. The basic adult plumage is black, gray, or brown, they have a medium-long tail and a pointed bill. The bill is blackish in color. The legs are also blackish in color. Shiny cowbird call is known to be an ascending series of high and short notes. This species is not an Endangered one and belongs to the Least concern category. This bird is known to be quite social in its behavior and this species was first recorded in the United States in Florida.  

It is interesting to learn about this shiny cowbird and if you are interested, read about similar species like the bronzed cowbird and the giant cowbird too.

Shiny Cowbird Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a shiny cowbird?

A shiny cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis) is a bird.

What class of animal does a shiny cowbird belong to?

It belongs to the class of Aves of birds.

How many shiny cowbirds are there in the world?

No accurate number or count of the shiny cowbird population has been established or recorded.

Where does a shiny cowbird live?

The range of this bird includes South America and the range of this species is known to be shifting towards the north and thus, are also found in southern Florida and West Indies. Shiny cowbird migration is not well known, especially within North America.

What is a shiny cowbird's habitat?

Shiny cowbird habitat primarily includes open and semi-open areas, forests or habitats, and agricultural or cultivated lands with trees and shrub patches. It can also be spotted in suburbs, bird feeders, and lawns types of habitat.

Who do shiny cowbirds live with?

Not much information is available about this bird living in groups or alone but it has been observed that the feeding of this species sometimes happens in mixed flocks or groups of some species of common blackbirds.

How long does a shiny cowbird live?

The actual lifespan of this cowbird is unknown.

How do they reproduce?

The reproduction system of the shiny cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis) is known to be promiscuous and not monogamous. A male is known to sing a song while moving around a female and after the song is finished, prospective mates are known to bow to each other as a part of courtship displays or rituals and after this mating ritual, mating or copulation takes place. This bird is known to be a brood parasite, that is, it does not build its own nest and lay eggs in the nests of some other birds and does not raise its own chicks or young ones. The eggs are known to vary in color, the eggs can be white in color with gray, red, brown spots, or blotches. The nestlings are known to be fed by the host parents and the chicks leave the nest in 10-12 days.

What is their conservation status?

This species of cowbirds have been placed under the category of Least Concern as its conservation status.

Shiny Cowbird Fun Facts

What do shiny cowbirds look like?

The plumage of the shiny cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis) differs among the subspecies. Adult males belonging to the subspecies M.b. bonariensis are black with blue-purple iridescence while the female tends to have a brown-gray or a dusty plumage and the M.b. cabanisii are similar species in appearance, only the female of this species is known to look lighter or paler while M.b. aequatoralis female is darker in color and the male has a violet iridescence. The subspecies M.b. occidentalis is known to have a rich purple iridescence while the female is highly distinctive of this species as the upper part is extremely pale with striped underparts. A female of the M.b. venezuelensis is known to be darker and males have similar plumage to M.b. occidentalis. The female of the subspecies M.b minimus is known to have a darker colored head and streaked or striped scapular or inter-scapulars than M.b. bonariensis and the male is known to look familiar to that of M.b. bonariensis. Similarly, the male of M.b. riparius looks similar to that of M.b. bonariensis while a female has dark or bolder colored upper bodies and paler or lighter underparts as compared to the M.b. bonariensis. The tail of the shiny cowbird is known to be medium or long, its bill is pointed and the legs are blackish in color. Young or juvenile males are known to be dark in color while females are buff or brown in color.

The plumage and bill of this species are some of its identifiable features.

How cute are they?

These birds are considered cute because of their color and size.

How do they communicate?

These birds are known to communicate just like other birds by producing a variety of calls and sounds for various purposes like breeding and when threatened. Shiny cowbird sounds are known to have high notes and the shiny cowbird song is known to be a constant purring.

How big is a shiny cowbird?

The size of these birds is similar to that of a robin. The length of these birds ranges from 7-9 in (18-22 cm). These birds are known to be larger than an American tree sparrow.

How fast can a shiny cowbird fly?

The exact speed of these cowbirds is unknown but they are known to be good flyers.

How much does a shiny cowbird weigh?

Their weight ranges from 0.06-0.14 lb (31-65 g).

What are the male and female names of the species?

There are no particular names for a male and female of this species.

What would you call a baby shiny cowbird?

There is no specific name for a baby of this species but in general, they are referred to as chicks, young, or juveniles.

What do they eat?

These omnivorous birds primarily feed on seeds and insects like grasshoppers and beetles and are also known to eat or feed on arthropods. They are known to forage when walking on the ground. They are also known to scratch the ground using one foot and finds seeds and grains to feed on.

Are they beneficial?

Not much information is available but these birds are known to affect the reproductive rate or success of the host birds negatively. Adult females are known to kill host eggs by pecking or removing the eggs from the nests.

Would they make a good pet?

Not enough information is available about this species as pets.

Did you know...

Johann Friedrich Gmelin first described this species in 1789.

Seven subspecies of the shiny cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis) have been recognized namely, Molothrus bonariensis bonariensis, cabanisii, aequatorialis, occidentalis, venezuelensis, minimus, riparius distributed across Chile, Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, southern Florida, southern and eastern Brazil, and West Indies.

The subspecies found in Florida is known to be the smallest one.

The behavior of this bird is known to be quite social.

Shiny cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis) is known to be a generalist and the number of their host species is around 250; shiny cowbirds just like other cowbirds or members of the family Icteridae are known to be a brood parasite.

The young of shiny cowbird are known to be non-mimetic, that is, they do not replicate or imitate the behavior of the chicks of the host species.

It has been recorded that a male shiny cowbird was first spotted in the United States in 1985 in the Florida keys and by the 1990s this bird was considered a permanent resident in southern Florida. In later years this bird was spotted in Virginia and Texas.  

This species is considered to be a reason for the extinction of species native to islands like the yellow-shouldered blackbird of Puerto Rico and Martinique Oriole of Martinique.

A group of cowbirds is referred to as a corral or herd of cowbirds.

Why do they call it a cowbird?

The name cowbird was given to the bird species as it had a habit of following herds of cows, buffalos (cattle), in order to or search for insects to prey on or to feed on.

What is a distinct characteristic of the shiny cowbird?

One of the most distinct characteristics of the shiny cowbird is that it does not raise its chick and is a brood parasite.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! For more relatable content, check out these flycatcher facts and Indian roller facts pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable Shiny Cowbird coloring pages.

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Written by Oluniyi Akande

Doctorate specializing in Veterinary Medicine

Oluniyi Akande picture

Oluniyi AkandeDoctorate specializing in Veterinary Medicine

With an accomplished background as a Veterinarian, SEO content writer, and public speaker, Oluniyi brings a wealth of skills and experience to his work. Holding a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Ibadan, he provides exceptional consulting services to pet owners, animal farms, and agricultural establishments. Oluniyi's impressive writing career spans over five years, during which he has produced over 5000 high-quality short- and long-form pieces of content. His versatility shines through as he tackles a diverse array of topics, including pets, real estate, sports, games, technology, landscaping, healthcare, cosmetics, personal loans, debt management, construction, and agriculture.

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