A Snot And Spit-drinking Cowbird

Occasionally I rerun a favorite older blog post because few current readers have ever seen it. This one was published back on February 27, 2013. I’ve rewritten some of the text and tweaked the formatting. Image quality is mediocre because the photos were taken in very harsh light so I had to heavily process them in order to manage the extreme contrast as best I could and that produced some processing artifacts

For any who may be disturbed by the crassness of my title you have my permission to substitute mucus and saliva for the offending two words… 🙂 For me they work just fine in this context.


Before Europeans came to North America and cleared forests which modified the environment into the agricultural and suburban landscapes of today the range of the Brown-headed Cowbird was limited to the short-grass plains where they followed the almost endless herds of American Bison and fed on the insects stirred up by those wandering behemoths. Early settlers so strongly associated cowbirds with bison that they almost exclusively called them “buffalo birds”.

Today that relationship continues to exist wherever bison can still be found and Antelope Island is one of those places.

One of the many challenges facing cowbirds was obtaining enough moisture as they followed the bison herds over the hot, rolling plains. Several years ago in late summer I photographed a cowbird behavior that illustrated one of their methods of dealing with that problem.


I found this huge bull languishing in the broiling sun next to a boulder that he had been using as a scratching post. A group of Brown-headed Cowbirds was in the vicinity but at first I wasn’t paying much attention to them. Then this female (at frame bottom) flew in very close…



and began flying at the nostrils of the bull. Initially I was unsure about what she was doing but she did it repeatedly and eventually it became clear that she was…



drinking the mucus-laden secretions from the bison’s nostrils and/or mouth. She would actually hover in place as she gobbled down the long, stringy strands of mucus.

Not a pretty sight and perhaps a bit unsettling to delicate sensibilities but what an incredibly adaptive behavior for survival in hot, arid conditions.

I love seeing and documenting stuff like this!




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