Bird Nests and Nesting Schemes

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Host Nests (Brood Parasites)

Some birds will lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and pass the nesting chores to them.  For the cowbirds of North America (especially the Bronzed and Brown-headed Cowbird) this is the only way they do it.  Other species like pheasants and some ducks may do this occasionally and some females who lose their nest before they can lay their egg may "dump" their eggs into an active nest in the neighborhood.

The famous nest parasite of Europe, the Common Cuckoo, has developed complex strategies for accomplishing this nesting deception.  These cuckoos have developed the ability to lay their eggs quickly and the egg can sometimes mimic the egg of the host.  The male cuckoo will sometimes lure the host female from the nest while his mate lays her egg in the unattended nest and may roll one host eggs out of the nest to allay suspicion.  The whole process take only about 10 seconds.

Note: There are 56 species in the Old World (Europe, Asia and Africa), but only three species in the Americas that are obligate brood parasites (always use this nesting scheme). 


Female Brown-headed Cowbirds usually lay a single egg in the nest of another bird.  They will do this about 10 to 12 times in a season. 

  Female Brown-headed Cowbird, by Kendall Brown   ŠKendall W. Brown

The unwitting host female will incubate  the egg for about 11 or 12 days and then feed the often "strange-looking" chick until it is ready to leave the nest.

  Juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird, by Jack Binch   ŠJack Binch

With no need to help with nest building or feeding the female while she is on the nest or taking care of the chicks after they hatch, the male Black-headed Cowbirds would seem to be the envy of the bird world.

  "Smiling?" Male Brown-headed Cowbird, by John Crawley   ŠJohn Crawley

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