Evaluating the Gut and Cloacal Bacterial Community of Cowbirds: A Potential Mechanism for Enhanced Immunity

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A female Brown-headed Cowbird. USGS photo.
A female Brown-headed Cowbird. USGS photo.

The goal of this study is to examine the gut and cloacal communities of brown-headed cowbird, a species that is a generalist parasite that lays its eggs in the nests of >200 other avian species. We are comparing cowbird diversity with that of a similar non-parasitic species, red-winged black bird. We hypothesize that one of the reasons that brown-headed cowbirds have such strong immune systems is due to the fact that they have a much more diverse gut and cloacal microbial diversity because their young are raised in such varying environments. We are finding that there is higher microbial diversity in brown-headed cowbird suggesting a possible mechanism for increased immunity in cowbirds. This research is in collaboration with Colorado State University, USGS, and Cornell University.