S u r v i v a l   O f   T h e   C o w b i r d

There is an old saying that states something to the effect that if you want to find the easiest way to do a job, just asks a lazy man. Well, at one time I might have believed that, but no more. I realize that smart people have also found many useful short cuts. This also applies to the animal kingdom. It seems that some birds and animals have developed some pretty amazing short cuts of their own. Chimpanzees use tools to pull termites out of their mounds and eat them. Whales and other water creatures acting as a team, herd fish into a tight circle and then all close in to get their fill. Cranes and geese fly in “V” formations and are constantly changing leaders. This keeps one goose from doing all the work. Breaking down the wind resistance for the rest of the flock can be a very tiring job. There are many interesting and fascinating facts about birds and animals that are not always seen.

A bird with one of the strangest instincts lives right here in the U.S.A. and many are here in Tennessee. It is known as the Cow Bird. It is not particularly pretty nor does it have a very pretty song. The Indians used to call them the Buffalo Birds. They rode on the backs of the Buffalo and ate the ticks and flies that congregated around those large animals. The Oxpecker birds in Africa do the same thing. They ride on the backs of water buffalo and rhinos and eat the ticks and flies that live around those big animals. When America was young the buffalo herds numbered in the millions and the Cow Birds followed the herds. When the buffalo moved on so did the Cow Birds. There was no time to build nests or raise babies. So what did they do? Did you ever hear of a bird that doesn’t build its own nest or raise its own babies? Cow Birds don’t. Isn’t that a little strange?

This very dull colored blackbird, with a brown head, developed the odd habit of laying its eggs in other bird’s nests. The mother Brown Headed Cow Bird never sees its own babies. She never feeds her own babies and never teaches it how to be a Cow Bird. The sparrow family is often the one to raise the baby Cow Birds. The mother Cow Bird just finds another bird’s nest and waits till the other bird leaves the nest. She just moves in and in a matter of a few minutes she drops her own egg in beside the other eggs and flies off leaving the other mother to do all the work.

One day as I was sitting near a window, overlooking the nest of a pair of Song Sparrows, I watched this spectacle. I saw the Song Sparrow leave her nest and out of nowhere a female Cow Bird flew in and quickly laid her large egg next to the two smaller eggs. That new egg was almost three times the size of the sparrow’s eggs. Surely the mother sparrow would remove this huge egg when she returned, but no, she just looked it over couple of times. She then jumped in the nest and did her motherly duty and sat on those eggs until they hatched. She and her mate worked themselves silly trying to feed the big, bully bird. Eventually one of her little eggs did get pushed out of the nest. After they hatched it was strange to see such a big baby next to the tiny baby in the same nest. It wasn’t long before they grew wing feathers and followed the little mother sparrow around begging for food. I guess you know who got the most. After the mother sparrow had done all she could do, the young Cow Bird flew off to join his own flock. He never knew who his real family was but his instincts still told him he was a Cow Bird. He eventually joined all the other Cow Birds down at the barn eating seeds and bugs.

There are a lot of theories as to why this bird has such a strange habit. I really think that our Creator might have something to do with it, don‘t you? I’m very thankful that some people, like Song Sparrows, adopt and raise little children that are not their own. As we know, Jesus told us that these little sparrows are very special to Him, maybe now we know one reason why.

Burney Tompkins

    - Uncle Burney

("McDonald Manna" March, 2007)

Copyright 1995 - 2007

Burney's Critter Corner Index

Write to us, and we'll tell Uncle Burney!

Sponsored by McDonald Road SDA Church