Monday, August 25, 2008

Life Isn't Fair!

Female Cowbird

We are born with an innate sense of fairness and as children perceive unfairness very strongly. There were five children in our family and Mom had to cut a pie into seven very even pieces. Complaints were sure to be voiced if one of us felt we were short-changed by even a sliver of dessert.

Somewhere along the way we learn that life is not dished out in fair, even slices and are much happier if we accept this fact. We are acquainted with immature people who have difficulty with hard things that come their way. No one is guaranteed an easy life and our struggles should make us stronger, more resilient and empathetic.

Feed me! Chipping Sparrow and large juvenile Cowbird*

I am not a fan of Cowbirds and had to look hard in my archives to find a picture of one. I took the picture of the female Cowbird this spring thinking it was a different bird. This native bird is a parasite and lays its eggs in the nest of other birds, often those of small warblers and sparrows. The Cowbird chick is large and demanding and may crowd out the host bird's own babies.

How unfair is that?!

Recently I was out birding with a friend from work when we came across a little Chipping Sparrow who was working furiously to feed a very loud and demanding juvenile Cowbird. The youngster was much larger than the surrogate parent. The Cowbird sat in the grass as the sparrow flew up, down, left and right catching insects which it placed in the Cowbird's beak. I approached to get a closer shot and the Cowbird flew most capably to the top of a nearby tree.

What a lazy adolescent!

Silhouette of Sparrow (left) feeding Cowbird (right)*

The Chipping Sparrow demonstrated acceptance of its misfortune and cared for the demanding intruder capably. I was the one who felt indignant as I observed the unfairness of it all.

What can I learn from nature?

* photos taken by my friend, Deb


  1. I remember seeing a video clip once of two eagles in a nest. The large one got on top and got almost all of the food and pecked the other one down. I found it very sad.

  2. Anonymous8:06 pm GMT-4

    Our barn(house) swallows that nest here raise 2 sets of babies from June through mid August. The 2nd group are large and can fly now and are gathering (early) for their long trip south. Momma especially is thin and appears weary still catching insects for 3 babies all larger than her. We have 22 active nests on the property and no mosquitoes.
    She must fly the route as well and I want to say to the babies - work or starve but then I don't.
    They'll have their turn of hard work next year.
    Question - where do they spend the winter?

  3. Of course, sentiments such as fairness are well-developed in humans, but seem to have no advocates in the remaining animal kingdom.
    Usually thoughts of unfairness lead to personal unhappiness. Hmmm--maybe our fellow animals are on to something.

  4. Each species will find a way to survive I suppose. Doesn't mean it's "fair" but it just is what it is.

  5. The cowbirds who hitch rides on the backs of Buck & Rupert every summer seem very laid back and doubt from lack of parental responsibility!

  6. Anonymous8:19 am GMT-4

    I had read that cowbirds don't receive the "parent of the year" award.

    The foster bird parent is doing what she is suppose to be doing; caring for her young. Does she really know one is different then the others? We as humans would do the same. If one of our children was different would we turn our backs on them? Of course not! Is it fair? Well sometimes those "unfair" situations turn into a valuable life lesson and make you a far greater person.

    It's hard for us to watch the bird situation because we are humans and understand the right from wrong. Did the cowbird asked to be put into that situation? It's not fair to him either. Nature has a way of tugging at our hearts in many different aspects. We just found this one difficult to deal with this.

  7. Cowbirds..groan. We had the usual chippy and song sparrows feeding the "Baby Huey" cowbirds.

    My Dad always said, "Life isn't fair"

  8. Thanks, I learned something today! You're right. Life isn't always fair but we have to deal with it.Poor little mama bird.

  9. I bet it would be much cheaper and easier if humans left their little bundles in someone else's nest too.... I wonder how often cowbirds raise their own young vs. leave them for other bird to raise?

  10. AC- That would be hard to see. I imagine may baby birds do not survive long, just as baby humans used to have a high mortality rate.

    Mom- That is a lot of swallows. Our swallows are starting to leave, but I have no idea where yours would go. South America maybe? but why?

    KGMom- How true. Yet we expect better for ourselves.

    Jayne- Many species do survive but it is such a fine balance that depends on so many uncontrollable variables.

    Karen- lol- They get a free ride all the way.

    Cheryl- Well said. Cowbirds didn't ask to be that way and because of that I do give them a little consideration. They are part of our natural world too.

    RW- "Baby Huey"! I have to remember that.

    Jean- You of all people know that life is not fair. You handle it graciously.

    Zhakee- There are people who dump their little bundles, and others who should hand their care to others. I do not believe Cowbirds ever raise their young or even build a nest.

  11. I came across a male Scarlet Tanager trying to feed a cowbird this summer.-It brings to mind people who are able to take advantage of other through deception.-It's all part of nature I guess.-


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