from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun Any of various blackbirds of the genus Molothrus, especially the common North American species M. ater, that lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and are often seen accompanying herds of grazing cattle.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun An oscine passerine bird of America, belonging to the family Icteridæ and genus Molothrus; especially, M. ater or M. pecoris, so called from its accompanying cattle.
  • noun A name sometimes given in Great Britain to the rose-colored pastor, Pastor (Thremmaphilus) roseus. Macgillivray.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun (Zoöl.) The cow blackbird (Molothrus ater), an American starling. Like the European cuckoo, it builds no nest, but lays its eggs in the nests of other birds; -- so called because frequently associated with cattle.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A small North American blackbird (Molothrus ater) that lays its eggs in the nests of other birds.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun North American blackbird that follows cattle and lays eggs in other birds' nests


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[From their habit of staying with cattle.]


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word cowbird.


  • And so along with the little baby cardinals flapping flopping and squawking like mad, this little cowbird is right there with the rest getting dutifully fed by the cardinals.

    When Animals Adopt: Lessons of Love and Adoptive Stewardship

  • Tanagers, and Allies by A.C. Bent (1958): "It deserves the common name cowbird and its former name, buffalo-bird, for its well-known attachment to these domestic and wild cattle."

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol III No 3

  • Another bunting having almost the same range, although a little more southerly, is the red-eyed cowbird, which is larger and darker than our common cowbird and has the same parasitical habits.

    Our Bird Comrades

  • It is laughable, almost pathetic, to see a tiny oven-bird or redstart feeding a strapping young cowbird which is several times as large as herself.

    Our Bird Comrades

  • "You know there is a bird called the cowbird or cuckoo, and that bird is too lazy to build a nest for itself.

    Uncle Wiggily's Travels

  • This kind of “adoptive stewardship” might lead us, like Ma & Pa Cardinal with the little cowbird chick, to nurture and tend everything in nature as parents caring for children – no matter what the kiddies look like or where they come from.

    When Animals Adopt: Lessons of Love and Adoptive Stewardship

  • We began cowbird trapping, to reduce nest predation, and before the second year of the recent drought, we had three nesting pairs producing 3-4 offspring a year I would photograph them at water with their fledged offspring--families stay together until they migrate.

    From Twitter 04-28-2010

  • Sure, some birds have names that describe their activities, such as flycatcher, or gnatcatcher, or their general appearance, such as bluebird, or the place they tend to loiter, such as cowbird.

    Birding season: No grousing or sniping

  • I have been watching a pair of cardinals parenting a baby cowbird at my bird feeders recently.

    When Animals Adopt: Lessons of Love and Adoptive Stewardship

  • As the largest unfragmented forest left in the eastern U.S., park bird populations may be stable, in part due to avoidance of cowbird Molothrus ater, a prolific nest parasite.

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park, United States


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