A Yellow Warbler’s Dedication

To think I had to come all the way out West to photograph a Yellow Warbler to finally add this “lifer” to my bird list; I’d seen them numerous times along the East Coast but always “missed the shot”.  🙂


While camping in Coalville, Utah, I sighted this male Yellow Warbler flying in and out of a line of trees several times alongside our campsite.  I could tell he was quite busy and on a mission.



Losing sight of him in the trees, I continued walking a few steps and saw a perched juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird.  He/she gave me several wonderful profile shots.



After the quick photo session, the young Cowbird flew off his perch and up into the trees where I had just sighted the Yellow Warbler.

And just as quick, the Yellow Warbler appeared on the branch next to the Cowbird and fed him an insect.



The Yellow Warbler left and returned so many times, I lost count.  The trees must have been full of ‘food’!  Each return, the Warbler brought another insect.  And at each departure, the young Cowbird begged and cried for more.



So what is going on with these two species?

The Brown-headed Cowbird is North America’s most common “brood parasite.” A female Cowbird makes no nest of her own, but instead lays her eggs in the nests in more than 220 other bird species, who then raise the young Cowbirds as their own.

A Yellow Warbler’s open, cuplike nest is easy to find and widely used by Cowbirds.

The Yellow Warbler can recognize Cowbird eggs, but are too small and cannot get the eggs out of their nests.  In some areas, the Warblers try to prevent these parasites by building a new floor over the Cowbird eggs as well as their own eggs, and then laying another new clutch of their own.

In one case, persistent Cowbirds returned five times to lay more eggs in one nest, and an even more persistent Warbler built six layers of nest floors to cover up the Cowbird eggs.



There are times when a Cowbird egg does get incubated, but will unfortunately hatch first, dominating the food supply of the newborn Warblers.  The Yellow Warblers will do their best to feed all of them, including the dominant Cowbird who requires and demands much more food than his ‘siblings’.

Notice the juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird is twice the size of the Yellow Warbler.  What a tough time for these adoptive parents!

Sometimes, as in the next photo, the Yellow Warbler would stop on the branch and just look at me as if to say, “Will this kid ever be full??!!!”



Such dedication!

It became a double delight to finally capture a Yellow Warbler as well as get to actually see this type of activity unfold before me.   I hope you enjoyed my share.


43 thoughts on “A Yellow Warbler’s Dedication

  1. Great captures of a tough bird to photograph! And the cowbird-rearing is also a great catch. Well done 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing this interesting post Donna, and your photos are so beautiful and descriptive. These Cowbirds are similar to the various Cuckoos and Koels we experience which come from Asia in summer months and do the same thing to our native birds.

    • Thanks so much, Ashley! I had read about Cowbirds being raised by others species, so I was thrilled to actually see this. Poor thing, I wondered if the smaller Warbler ever got a break from feeding the hungry Cowbird!

      • A friend once had a tiny Fairy-wren feeding a Koel baby, it was continually trying to feed this large bird on tiny insects, as it continued squawking.😊

    • Thanks so much Stephen! Would a Warbler sacrifice it’s life trying to keep a fledged Cowbird fed? I did worry about that little Warbler working so hard, and that was for only an hour that I watched them. I couldn’t imagine the Warbler doing this for days and weeks! Obviously, the Cowbirds do get fed well enough to survive since we have so many of them.

  3. WOW! What a delight to see the Yellow Warbler, and to actually see this behavior played out in front of you! I would be so thrilled.

    Your images are wonderful, and the trip west to see it…WORTH IT! 🙂

    • Thanks Rick! Yes, I have followed BobZ for years, he was one of my inspirations when I started my blog, and he helped me privately thru email with tips on Photoshop. 🙂

  4. I really enjoyed your share, Donna! I knew of this behavior by cowbirds, but have never seen it in “action”. And I have yet to get pictures of a Yellow Warbler.

  5. I have heard of this brood parasite phenomenon, but not seen it in real life. Your post is very educational, for me anyway, and the photos are absolutely amazing. Thanks, Donna!

  6. That’s why they call the cowbirds parasites,put their eggs into others’ nests and let the others rear their young. Poor warblers must be worn out,but a nice find, and I understand what you mean by trying to get an actual shot of them…I heard them lots, but it wasn’t easy and to get a good shot well, not so great.

  7. Fabulous captures. What a treat to not only see it, but to get such marvelous images of nature in action. Can’t help but feel sorry for the poor tiny warbler though!

    • Thanks so much, Jet! I was very happy to discover this action, but did worry for the little Warbler. He really was working his butt off, kudos to him. Nature is so fascinating!!!

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