Two in the Bush

“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.”

“Why?”

“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.

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3 comments on “Two in the Bush

  1. Oscar Houck says:

    Brian,

    We are the cowbirds! Nature often holds a mirror for us, if we can stand to look at ourselves. Think of the 500 or so existing Native American tribes living in their “nests” before we, the Europeans, forcefully dislodged them, pushed them out. It’s a long, ugly national shadow that we’ve never fully turned around to see. Writer Melanie Rae Thon uses cowbirds to beautiful metaphorical effect in her novel, “sweet hearts”. Ms. Thon used to reside and teach in Boston, at least relatively near your neck of the woods. She now teaches at the University of Utah.

    Filmmaker Terrence Malick (my favorite director) also makes use of this comparison between man and Nature, reminding us that we aren’t that far removed from our origins and that Nature is cruel, although innocent. See especially, “The Thin Red Line”, “The New World” and “Days of Heaven”. The thin, nearly transparent veneer of “civilization” covers our best efforts to murder our brothers and sisters, and the planet. We are however, as a friend recently reminded me, the only species capable of choosing to live above our natures.

    All the best, Oscar Houck

  2. ~ t says:

    Sure, the Cow bird’s a parasite, and ugly to boot,
    but just like the “Right to Life’s” argument; Who are
    we to say who lives and dies??… “Moral Values” always
    get twisted to justify whatever action we choose ….
    Just a “Final Solution” on a personal level.

    Glad I’m not a Cowbird. ~Oops

  3. ~ t says:

    Perhaps mom should have fried that egg for breakfast …

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