Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Of Cowbirds and Starlings

This morning as I was getting ready for work, I noticed several birds on my front lawn. Three in particular drew my attention. Two were brown and rather large, and the third was sleek black and about two-thirds as big. The smaller bird I identified almost immediately as a Starling, as it had the tale-tell yellow beak and yellow streaked feathers. The other two puzzled me for some time.
As I watched the trio wander around my front yard, it was obvious the Starling was hunting for food. The two brown birds were tagging along and, appeared to be bullying the Starling. It wasn’t until the Starling found a big juicy bug and rammed it down one of the other two’s throats, that I realized what was going on. The Starling was trying to teach these two juveniles to hunt, the problem? They were juvenile Cowbirds.

 Brown Headed Cowbirds lay their eggs in other birds’ nests and rely on the other birds to raise their young. This often involves the death of the host bird’s young, as the infant Cowbird takes an immense amount of time and food to raise. If the host bird rejects the Cowbird egg, the adult Cowbird may retaliate against the host’s nest or eggs by smashing or destroying them.
While I am not overly fond of Cowbirds, I am also not entirely thrilled about Starlings either. Starlings are one of the few invasive species that we can identify their introduction onto a continent. 60-100 Starlings were released in Central Park in New York City in the 1890’s. From there they took over the continent, and are known to be aggressive at taking over native birds’ nests. They are also known for unloading all their fecal matter before landing in their nests. While growing up, a pair nested in our garage and plastered my dad’s car every time they flew in. In short, most of the poop that pigeons get blamed for is actually the result of Starlings.
Knowing all this, I paused to reflect on these three birds on my front lawn. The Starling, an invasive species, was now being pressed by a Cowbird to raise her young. I didn’t know whether to be thrilled or disappointed at the predicament. Both types of birds cause damage and additional stress on their surrounding species. Both species force their way in and take over otherwise peaceful situations.

As a society I often wonder if we are not like Starlings and Cowbirds, imposing our will on those around us regardless of the consequences. Do we put our fellow men at a disadvantage by pushing our agenda without consideration for those who are already there? Are we destroying the traditional family by forcing the acceptance of an alternative lifestyle?

As an individual I am very protective of my family, I also believe in being as self-reliant as possible. After watching this scene unfold in my front yard, however, I stopped to examine myself. Do I force my will on the rest of my family? Do I accept input from my wife and my children when it comes to activities and how we spend time together? I know that I am not perfect, but that is no excuse for not trying to improve how I treat my family, my community, and my fellow man. 

Kendall Purser

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