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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


The brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater; cowbird) is unique among North American blackbirds (Icteridae) because it is managed to mitigate the negative effects on endangered songbirds and economic losses in agricultural crops. Cowbird brood parasitism can further affect species that are considered threatened or endangered due to anthropogenic land uses. Historically, cowbirds have often been culled without addressing ultimate causes of songbird population declines. Similar to other North American blackbirds, cowbirds depredate agricultural crops, albeit at a lower rate reported for other blackbird species. Conflicting information exists on the extent of agricultural damage caused by cowbirds and the effectiveness of mitigation measures for application to management. In this paper, we reviewed the progress that has been made in cowbird management from approximately 2005 to 2020 in relation to endangered species. We also reviewed losses to the rice (Oryza sativa) crop attributed to cowbirds and the programs designed to reduce depredation. Of the 4 songbird species in which cowbirds have been managed, both the Kirtland’s warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii) and black-capped vireo (Vireo atricapilla) have been removed from the endangered species list following population increases in response to habitat expansion. Cowbird trapping has ceased for Kirtland’s warbler but continues for the vireo. In contrast, least Bell’s vireo (V. bellii pusillus) and southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) still require cowbird control after modest increases in suitable habitat. Our review of rice depredation by cowbirds revealed models that have been created to determine the number of cowbirds that can be taken to decrease rice loss have been useful but require refinement with new data that incorporate cowbird population changes in the rice growing region, dietary preference studies, and current information on population sex ratios and female cowbird egg laying. Once this information has been gathered, bioenergetic and economic models would increase our understanding of the damage caused by cowbirds.