28/04/18. Cowbirds in Whitewater Draw, Arizona

I went to Whitewater Draw north of Bisbee today (28/4/18).  It’s a large reserve in the desert grasslands of southeast Arizona that serves as the nesting ground for thousands of cranes in winter time.   In springtime most of the water in the draw seems to recede, leaving behind just a large reed filled-pond neighbouring a large owl roosting area.

Tumbleweeds blow across the cracked earth of the draw.


I arrived just before sunrise, around 5:45am.

I came across these birds with their interesting songs/calls; I think I heard it first just last week in Anahuac (Texas), but had no idea then what it was.   Yesterday I was able to refine my search and I believe what we have here is the call of the brown-headed cowbird.

The cowbird spends most of its time laying eggs; but it does so in other birds’ nests.  So, it’s lifecycle is a bit like the cuckoo’s.   In Arizona, it often lays its eggs in the nests of orioles; and this area (Whitewater Wash) is renowned for its oriole populations, among other things at different times of the year.

The cowbird (I have no idea where the name comes from) makes a wonderful song that sounds like a drip of water, or a plinking sound followed and mixed with some warbler-like rasping.   It is an arrestingly familiar, yet alien noise, and I am, for some reason, reminded of Murakami’s wind-up bird when I hear it.

There are other birds on the recording, but I don’t know what they are.   I saw orioles, red-winged blackbirds, curve-billed thrasher, Wilson’s warbler – a beautiful little yellow bird with a black patch on its head that flitted through the trees hunting for flies.  There were many birds I did not see; and I have more recordings that I will post shortly – but I wanted to start with the cowbird.   There are also bees and flies and crickets.

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