How Now Brown Cow…. Bird?

Although the brown-headed cowbird is a year-round resident of North Carolina, I didn’t see it until this year. The unpopular bird ate seeds on the deck long enough for me to get a photo. It is a black bird that looks like his head was dipped in brown paint. I won’t begrudge him one dinner out at my expense. The bird is disliked because it lays eggs in other birds’ nests. What a freeloader! The cowbird frolics, carefree, as the foster birds hatch and feed the interlopers as if they were their own. The only thing I like about the bird is that it takes advantage of others without forming vast bureaucracies to oversee the program.

041517 Brown-headed cowbird.jpg

According to various sources on the internet, the phrase “how now brown cow” was used in elocution lessons. It’s only as old as I am and just about as relevant. Has anyone else ever heard it?

27 thoughts on “How Now Brown Cow…. Bird?

    1. According to the map on the Merlin Bird App, the cowbird is a year-round resident of Texas except for the extreme northwest corner up by Oklahoma. They are sometimes in flocks of starlings, they say. I used to see them occasionally in our yard on Long Island.

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  1. Mid-sixties and I’ve heard the phrase all my life. I’m not sure if it was a typing exercise.though listening to it now it may well have been used for elocution.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

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  2. I’ve heard it forever. I like your line…”The only thing I like about the bird is that it takes advantage of others without forming vast bureaucracies to oversee the program.” So funny. So true. Well said.

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  3. “How now brown cow” – of course! Never heard of a cowbird before – thanks for the lovely nature lesson, and great pic! BTW, the thing it does with its eggs… isn’t that like a cuckoo bird? Or maybe… the opposite? I know the cuckoo is disliked for something similar, no?

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    1. The brown-headed cowbird breeds in a thin band of land across the whole southern border of Canada! I looked up the cuckoo. There was no mention of any drawback to the bird. There was one big plus — they like tent caterpillars! We must not have had many cuckoos here, because last year there were thousands of tent caterpillars in the mountain trees.

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      1. Oh that’s interesting, didn’t know that about the caterpillars. But the cuckoo, funny how I thought… well I’ll check with Google later cuz it’s bugging me. 😀

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      2. I see now that I should have been more specific. I was looking at an American bird app. We have yellow-billed cuckoos. I think you were quoting info about the common cuckoo that is native to Europe and Africa. That one does lay eggs in the nests of other birds, using a hawk’s call to scare them.

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  4. Anne,
    In our part of the world, a cuckoo would have similar behavior- in fact we learn of this in school and there are a lot of sayings about this. The cuckoo lays its eggs in a crow’s nest and thus saves up on nest space and nest building.
    I have never heard of the saying you mentioned, though. Glad to learn something new.
    Susie

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    1. My bird map shows the brown-headed cowbird is a year-round resident from southern California, swooping up to southern Maine. I saw them on Long Island, pecking around on the ground with starlings. Although they are definitely in NC, I hadn’t seen one here before. There it was, pecking at seeds on the deck! The female is gray-brown all over, according to the bird book. I never recognized the Missus.

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    1. I’d say tuck it away as a possibility. The birds don’t seem to be that plentiful. If you ever see a robin-sized bird with a brown head and black bosy, you’ll remember the name starts with brown-headed. Good luck!

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  5. You live in NC? I grew up there and think it’s just about the nicest place I’ve ever been, and with the travel I’ve done that’s saying a lot! And yup, I’ve heard the how now brown cow phrase. Not quite up with “the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain”, but I suppose it serves it’s purpose.

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