Towards the end of September, the old and young Cow Birds congregate in vast numbers, and are seen wending their way southward, sometimes by themselves, more frequently intermingled with other species such as the Purple Grakles and the Redwings, which they join in their plundering expeditions. They are to be seen in the Middle States until near the end of October, although unusually severe weather sometimes forces them southward at an earlier period.
This species derives its name from the circumstance of its frequenting cow-pens. In this respect it greatly resembles the European Starling. Like that bird it follows the cattle in the fields, often alights on their backs, and may be seen diligently searching for worms and larvæ among their dung. In spring, the cattle in many parts of the United States are much infested with intestinal worms, which they pass in great quantities, and on these the Cow-bird frequently makes a delicious repast.
It has no song properly so called, but utters a low muttering sort of chuckle, in performing which, it is seen to swell out its throat, and move the feathers there in succession, in a manner very much resembling that of the European Starling.
Icterus pecoris, Ch. Bonaparte, Synops. of Birds of the United States, p. 53.
Sturnus Junceti, Lath. Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 326. Male.
Fringilla pecoris, Gmel. Syst. vol. i. p. 910.—Lath. Ind. Ornith. vol. i. p. 443.
Cow-Bunting, Emberiza pecoris, Wils. Amer. Omith. vol. ii. p. 145. Pl. 18. fig. 1. Male, fig. 2. Female, fig. 3. Young.
Adult Male. Plate XCIX. Fig. 1.
Bill conical, robust, very acute, compressed towards the end; upper mandible obtuse above, rounded on the sides, encroaching a little on the forehead with an angle, the margins acute and overlapping; lower mandible with the sides inflected; gap-line much deflected at the base. Nostrils basal, lateral, oval, covered above by a membrane. Head of ordinary size. Neck rather short. Body rather robust. Feet of ordinary length; tarsus compressed, acute behind, anteriorly covered with seven longish scutella; toes free, scutellate, lateral ones nearly equal; claws arched, compressed, acute.
Plumage blended, glossy. Wings longish, curved, somewhat rounded, the second quill longest. Tail shortish, rounded, a little emarginate, of twelve straight, rounded feathers.