Cowbird People

I enjoy birds. 

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King of the Cardinals (Author photo)

I have enough bird feeders in my backyard to feed the entire starling population of the state of Ohio—not that I want to feed starlings. Starlings are to bird watchers what suckers are to fishermen: trash fish, trash birds. If I had my way, starlings would be target practice. So would geese. So would squirrels. But that’s for another article.

Thankfully, the more interesting birds manage to elbow aside the starlings from time to time. Gold-finches,

Goldfinch (Author photo)

cardinals, bluejays, nut-hatches,

White-breasted Nuthatch (Author photo)

rose-breasted grosbeaks,

Mr. and Mrs. Grosbeak (Author photo)

baltimore orioles, downy woodpeckers, and other fine feathered friends have helped themselves to seed and feed in my back yard.

And brown-headed cowbirds.

Brown-headed Cowbird (Author photo)

Now, that’s an interesting bird. If you’re not observant, you might think you’re looking at a starling, but starlings have yellow beaks. The cowbird’s beak is black. Or you might think you’re looking at a grackle, but grackles are bigger than cowbirds. The definitive feature of the cowbird is the black body, and the sharply demarcated brown head.

So, why am I writing about cowbirds? Well, like I said, it’s an interesting bird. After shooting a cowbird this morning in my backyard (relax, people, I shot it with a Canon, not a cannon!), I learned about it through the Audubon app on my smartphone, and the allaboutbirds.org website.

Cowbirds don’t build nests. They just help themselves to other birds’ nests. The female cowbird lays one egg a day in another bird’s nest. She might do this as many as 40 times or more in a season, using a different nest each time. She has plenty of nests to choose from, as cowbirds have been observed borrowing nests from over 220 different species of birds. Sometimes the cowbird will push one of the other bird’s eggs out of the nest to make room for her own egg. She flies off and leaves the work of hatching, feeding, and raising her young to the other bird. And it usually works. Of the many species cowbirds have done this to, at least 140 species have been observed sitting on a cowbird egg along with their own eggs, raising the hatchling to maturity. It’s with good reason that cowbirds are labeled a “brood parasite.”

The cowbird is a freeloader. It lets other birds do all the work. Maybe God gave us the cowbird to teach us a few truths about ourselves.

Are you a cowbird citizen, physically able to work but not working, letting other tax-paying citizens fund your unemployment or welfare, so you can sit on the couch, popping chocolates and watching daytime TV?

Are you a cowbird worker, slacking off because you know coworkers will fill in the gaps. Do you hang back on the tough jobs, with the result that your coworkers have to work harder to make up for your irresponsibility? Do you call in sick when you aren’t sick, forcing others to do your work?

Are you a cowbird parent, turning the raising of your children over to others, such as their peers, the schools, social media, or culture? Has the television, or youtube, or video games, or smartphones become your babysitters? Who is raising your children? Who is influencing them? You can be assured, someone is! And it may not be someone who shares your values.

Are you a cowbird Christian, letting twenty percent of the congregation do eighty percent of the work? Do you put your kids in the nursery, so other parents can watch them while you enjoy the service, even while you yourself refuse to serve in the nursery? Do you complain about cliques even while you refuse to host others in your home? Do you complain about no one making you feel welcome, even though you don’t extend yourself to make others feel welcome?

Do you lay burdens and responsibilities that should be yours, in other people’s nests? Maybe there’s a reason God created cowbirds. A wake-up call, perhaps?