Publication Details

Management implications of cowbird parasitism on neotropical migrant songbirds

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Robinson, Scott K.; Grzybowski, Joseph A.; Rothstein, Stephen I.; Brittingham, Margaret C.; Petit, Lisa J.; Thompson, Frank R.

Year Published

1993

Publication

In: Finch, Deborah M.; Stangel, Peter W. (eds.). Status and management of neotropical migratory birds: September 21-25, 1992, Estes Park, Colorado. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-229. Fort Collins, Colo.: Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service: 93-102

Abstract

Populations of brood parasitic Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molofhrus afer) have increased to the point where they pose a potential threat to populations of many neotropical migrant songbirds. Because cowbirds mostly feed in short grass (e.g., pastures and lawns) or on bare ground (e.g., row crops), they benefit directly from human activities. Cowbirds commute up to 7 km between feeding areas and habitats where they search for host nests, often favoring forest edge or secondary growth. Several neotropical migrants with restricted geographical ranges are endangered, at least partly as a result of cowbird parasitism (e.g., Kirtland's warbler Dendroica kirtlandii, Black-capped Vireo Vireo atricapillus). Cowbird control using baited decoy traps has reduced the percent of nests parasitized, increased nesting success, and may be essential for the continued survival of these endangered species. It is not clear, however, whether cowbird trapping would be effective at a broader scale in reducing parasitism in extensively fragmented landscapes such as in the Midwest where many neotropical migrants are experiencing very high levels of parasitism. Cowbird trapping should be viewed as a stop-gap measure to protect specific endangered populations. We recommend instead the development of broader-scale approaches, perhaps in combination with local trapping. One approach to controlling cowbirds is landscape-level management such as consolidation of ownership to preserve large tracts, eliminating potential cowbird feeding areas within large tracts, and minimizing edge habitat. A second possible approach is large-scale cowbird eradication at winter roosts, but this approach may be too diffuse to help specific sensitive species or areas with high parasitism levels. Any management plan should be preceded by cowbird monitoring and preliminary data on levels of parasitism.

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Citation

Robinson, Scott K.; Grzybowski, Joseph A.; Rothstein, Stephen I.; Brittingham, Margaret C.; Petit, Lisa J.; Thompson, Frank R. 1993. Management implications of cowbird parasitism on neotropical migrant songbirds. In: Finch, Deborah M.; Stangel, Peter W. (eds.). Status and management of neotropical migratory birds: September 21-25, 1992, Estes Park, Colorado. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-229. Fort Collins, Colo.: Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service: 93-102

Last updated on: August 22, 2006