“Look!” my wife says, holding up the hanging basket brimming with pink impatiens.
“Nice flowers,” I say.
“Not the flowers—the nest! There’s an egg in the nest!”
She pulls back a leafy stalk, revealing the intricately woven bowl nestled at the base of the plant. There, in the center, lies a small blue speckled egg.
“I noticed the house finches sitting on the branches of the Japanese maple the other day,” I say. “It’s probably a house finch nest.”
“Maybe a sparrow,” my wife says. “The mother bird is brown and about that size.”
“The female finch is dull brown like a sparrow.”
Gently, my wife replaces the hanging plant on the hook above the balustrade on the front porch.
When I trudge up the driveway from work the following evening, my wife announces, “There’s another egg in the nest!”
“Two in the bush,” I muse.
She lifts the potted plant down for me to see. Somehow the new egg looks different: a bit bigger, more densely speckled.
“That egg was laid by a different bird,” I say.
“Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure. See the difference?”
“Why would another bird do such a thing?”
“Might be a cowbird.”
“What’s a cowbird?”
“The brown-headed cowbird lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. Usually the cowbird baby hatches out first. It grows fast and eventually pushes the other birds out of the nest. The parent birds don’t know any better, so they keep feeding it as though it were their own baby.”
“I don’t think I like cowbirds very much.”
“They’re part of nature. It’s how they exist.”
My wife replaces the hanging basket and walks quietly into the house.
Two days later she makes another announcement. “There’s another egg in the nest. This one looks like the first one: blue with a few chocolate speckles.”
The two eggs look like twins next to the speckled brown egg.
“Are you sure that’s a cowbird egg?” she asks.
“Let’s check.” I do an online search and bring up a photo of the brown-headed cowbird. I scroll down to a picture of the nest below. The egg in the photo matches the egg in our nest exactly. “There you are,” I say.
My wife studies the picture. Then she says: “We’ll have to take it out.”
“So the baby finches can grow. Otherwise the cowbird baby will push them out of the nest.”
“But if you take out the cowbird egg, then the baby cowbird will die.”
A subdued look settles across my wife’s face. “I’d rather have the finches,” she says.
“Suit yourself,” I say, as she disappears down the stairs.
Even the simplest of nature’s marvels can be fraught with ethical dilemmas that loom large in our struggle to do the right thing.