Avian Fools’ Day: These 5 Birds Are Experts at the Game of Gotcha

Photograph by Jim/Flickr Creative Commons

Avian Fools’ Day: These 5 Birds Are Experts at the Game of Gotcha

For some animals, every day is April Fool's Day--because who needs an international holiday to pull one over on a fellow bird?


Chelsea Harvey
Published: 03/31/2014

Watch out on April 1st or you might become the victim of an April Fools' Day prank. There's a joker in every crowd. These five birds are experts at the game of gotcha.

Brown-headed Cowbird

Photograph by Jim/Flickr Creative Commons

This clever bird executes the ultimate prank: it tricks other species into raising its young by laying eggs in their nests. The benefit: a female cowbird gets to devote all of her energy into producing eggs, while other parents feed and raise her babies, oblivious to the imposters. And the cowbird chicks don't fool around either; they've been known to push their "foster siblings" out of the nest to make sure they get maximum food and attention from their adoptive parents.


Northern Mockingbird

Photograph by Kenneth Cole Schneider/Flickr Creative Commons

Is that your car alarm going off? Nah, it's just the mockingbird outside your window. Northern mockingbirds are infamous for their ability to mimic sounds, including birdsongs, frog calls, and even artificial noises like cellphone ringtones. They are lifelong learners, capable of memorizing countless different patterns, and it takes a well-trained ear to catch them in the act!


Japanese Quail

Photograph by Hiyashi Haka/Flickr Creative Commons

Be careful where you walk when you're in quail territory. These birds are the masters of disguise, and a nest could be lurking right under your foot. The act of deception is designed to protect their babies from hungry predators. Each quail has a customized egg pattern. The birds build their nests on terrain in which their eggs will blend in with the background. Quail that lay creamy, unspotted eggs, for instance, might choose to hide them in a light-colored, sandy area. Others with spotted eggs place them against a darker or splotchier background. For the quail, hiding in plain sight is the perfect strategy.



Photograph by Gdahlman/Flickr Creative Commons

This little shorebird is capable of an Oscar-worthy performance when a predator threatens its eggs. Should a hungry fox venture too close to the nest, the killdeer immediately puts on an elaborate broken-wing act: it drags its wings and stumbles around, making itself out to be an easy meal and luring the predator away from the eggs. Once the enemy has been satisfactorily diverted from the nest, the killdeer will miraculously "heal" and fly back home to resume guard.


House Sparrow

Photograph by Paul Sullivan/Flickr Creative Commons

House sparrows sometimes take their jokes a step too far. These tiny songbirds are the bullies of the bird world, and they won't stop at taking your lunch money—they'll make off with your whole house. House sparrows are known for stealing other birds' nest sites, kicking out any eggs or babies that might already be living there and making themselves at home.

Magazine Category

Author Profile

Chelsea Harvey

Chelsea Harvey is a freelance writer with a special interest in wildlife conservation. Follow her on Twitter @chelseaharvey91.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine