Cowbird Symbolism: 12 Spiritual Meanings of Cowbird

Most birds embody positive and inspiring symbolism. Doves are likened to peace, owls to wisdom, and so on, but cowbirds are usually associated with some of the worst traits found in humans, including infidelity, greed, and selfishness.

In this article, we’re going to explore the symbolism behind the cowbird and see what kind of messages it can send when acting as an omen.

12 Spiritual Meanings of Cowbird

What Is a Cowbird?

Cowbirds are called any of the six bird species that belong to the genus Molothrus. All species are of similar size, most specimens measuring from 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) in total body length, and about 14 inches (36 cm) in wingspan. So, most cowbirds are about the size of your usual starling.

However, what picks cowbirds apart from the vast majority of birds is their method of nesting. Instead of wasting time and resources on building their own nests for hatching eggs, cowbird females lay eggs in nests of other bird species.

After that, the cowbird leaves the host nest, making its offspring a responsibility of the bird who built its own new nest. Such nesting strategy is called brood parasitism and harms many bird species who lose their own offspring as a result of prioritizing cowbird chicks.

What Does Cowbird Symbolize?

As you could imagine, being a brood parasite makes cowbirds symbolize many things, very few of which carry a positive impression.


The most obvious symbol of cowbirds is cunning. You can’t really be any more deceitful than tricking others into willingly raising your offspring. Cowbirds embody the very essence of manipulation, deception, and trickery.


On the other hand, the strategy of brood parasitism allows cowbirds to be free from worry. Upon laying the eggs into a foreign nest, the female cowbird flies wherever she wishes, looking for another adventure involving a new mate.

That’s a clear symbol of independence, which can be seen as either positive or negative. Such independence is walking on a thin line between being a mature free spirit and failing to mature by taking on responsibility.


Cowbirds leave their own offspring to complete strangers, with no regard for whether they will be capable of properly taking care of the hatchling. In most cases, cowbirds lay eggs into the nests of smaller bird species, that are deemed to fail in raising a much larger cowbird chick.

Leaving its own offspring to complete chance and fate while continuing to have fun makes cowbirds symbolize selfishness to the highest degree.


Brood parasitism that cowbird utilizes also symbolizes greed. Not wanting to invest its own resources and choosing to use those of other birds is not even the worst part about that. The worst part is that in most cases, cowbirds shove the eggs from the nest where they laid their own egg.

If there are no offspring of the actual bird whose nest that is, it means more food, attention, and care will go to the cowbird’s chick. So it’s not just about leeching off others, but also about destroying what is others’.


Laying eggs into nests that it didn’t build shows how cowbirds symbolize indecisiveness. These birds can’t make the decision of laying their eggs in their own nests and rather choose a new host nest every nesting season.


Cowbirds are unique not just because of their unique methods of taking advantage of other birds, but also because their mating seasons vary from region to region and even from year to year. Most other bird species have a pretty consistent breeding season, lasting a certain amount of time during a certain time of the year.

Because cowbirds require the nests of other birds to lay eggs, their own mating season relies on that of other birds in their habitat. Only as other birds mate and build nests for their upcoming eggs, that’s when cowbirds begin mating themselves.

What’s fascinating is that, unlike most bird species that lay just a few eggs per season, cowbirds can lay up to 80 eggs, symbolizing fertility and fecundity.


With the previous point comes the following one. As cowbirds aren’t required to invest their own resources into raising their chicks, they are free to breed as much as they want. They are polygamous and have several different mates every mating season. That’s why cowbirds are associated with promiscuity.

What Does It Mean To Encounter a Cowbird?

What Does It Mean To Encounter a Cowbird?

Cowbird is rarely a good omen to come upon. Encountering a cowbird most likely means that something deceitful and immoral things are happening in your life. In essence, it’s a bad omen indicating that evil, parasitic energies have infected your spiritual world.


Encountering a cowbird might indicate that there’s a lack of loyalty in your romantic relationship. Especially if recently you’ve been going through a rocky patch and started fighting a lot with your partner.

While you should never accuse your partner of cheating just because you saw a cowbird, it’s recommended to become more aware and attentive to the behavioral patterns of your partner. Maybe they started coming home late after work on a weekly basis, without telling you about working overtime?

Maybe they started spending a lot of time with some new friends that you’ve never heard about before, and are against you meeting them? That being said, be careful of falling into the trap of overthinking.

There are many “maybe” and “if” scenarios that can raise suspicion about infidelity in the relationship, making you oversuspicious of your partner. It could even become the main issue in the relationship on its own.

You’re Being Taken Advantage Of

As cowbirds are brood parasites, encountering one in the wild might send you a message about someone, allegorically speaking, laying their eggs into your nest. You might be taken advantage of without even suspecting it.

Just like birds of host nests are unknowingly feeding parasitic cowbird hatchlings, so you can be sacrificing your own wellbeing for the sake of someone else’. Self-sacrifice and generosity are great virtues when the person shows them voluntarily.

However, a cowbird you met on your way to work might be trying to send you a message about your kindness being used against your own will. While keeping a score isn’t healthy in relationships, it’s recommended to think deeply about your closest ones and consider how much you’re giving to every person, and how much they’re giving back to you.

Giving more than the other person in a relationship isn’t bad by any means, but sometimes, especially if it’s a romantic relationship, it could be difficult to realize that your partner is taking advantage of you.

You Are Taking Advantage Of Someone

In a similar vein, encountering a cowbird might signal to you that you’re the parasitic one in a relationship. Some people lack the awareness to understand that they’re using others for their own gain without giving anything in return.

Cowbird in Mythology

Cowbird in Mythology

Cowbirds only inhabit the New World, thus they aren’t prevalent in mythology and folklore all around the world. However, we can find many relevant myths in Europe, where most cultures have stories of mythological creatures that are eerily similar to cowbirds.

Native American Mythology

While various Native American tribes lived in the same areas as cowbirds, these birds don’t play a big part in local mythologies. Natives tend to associate cowbirds with buffalo, which migrate long distances in huge herds, only stopping to munch on some grass.

Some beliefs state that cowbirds are the ones guiding the herds towards better habitat, and that’s why they adopted the parasitic nesting technique of leaving their offspring to other birds. However, cowbirds follow buffalo and cattle herds for their own gain, as those herds attract many insects that cowbirds can easily feast on.

European Mythology

Most cultures in Europe have folktales about evil creatures stealing human newborns and replacing them with changelings, and fairies that look like humans. However, the resemblance was very superficial, and it could trick the parents of kidnapped children just for a short while.

Eventually, parents would catch up and start noticing strange features of changeling, ultimately realizing that it’s not their actual newborn. That’s the general gist of cowbird-like symbolism in European mythology, but details differ from culture to culture.

For example, Asturias, a region in Northern Spain, has folktales about creatures called “xana”. They are described as incredibly pretty blonds with slim bodies, that lived near freshwater sources, like rivers and fountains. According to legends, xana can deliver their own babies called “xanino”, but would attempt to replace human children with their own.

Some stories say that xanas do that so their babies would get baptized by the unsuspecting family, while others state that xanas are incapable of producing milk and feeding their babies. Regardless of the reason, it’s a great symbolic example of brood parasitism that’s displayed by cowbirds.

Final Words

The symbolism of cowbirds can be interpreted in many ways, but the main message is that you need to be aware of what’s going on around you. Be mindful of who you’re giving your time and energy to, and make sure that you’re not being taken advantage of.

12 Spiritual Meanings of Cowbird

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