Researchers have suggested that Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) destroy nest contents of potential hosts to induce renesting and thus enhance future opportunities for parasitism. Although cowbird destruction of passerine nests has been witnessed and surmised, few data are available on frequency of those events. We used miniature video-cameras at nests of grassland passerines and documented partial or complete destruction of eggs or nestlings by cowbirds at 7 of 132 nests monitored with cameras. At least three of the seven cases appeared to be attempts to totally destroy the nest contents; those cowbirds did not appear to be motivated by food or an intent to parasitize the nest. Three cases probably were associated with parasitism, but two involved egg removal late in incubation and the third was unusually destructive. Cowbirds were responsible for 24% of egg losses and 5% of nestling losses caused by predators. The importance of cowbirds as an agent of egg and nestling loss undoubtedly varies among sites and years, but it should not be overlooked.
Additional publication details
Frequency of egg and nestling destruction by female brown-headed cowbirds at grassland nests