Saturday, December 17, 2011
Unless you're a cowbird.
Or, it could be that the host bird is just programmed to be nice. I haven't forgotten the time Dave came home from the tavern towing a pert young blonde and said, just before falling into a fast, flatulent sleep, "this is Denise. Talk to her. She's been hitchhiking up I-5 from California and she thinks she'll be safe because she has an angel on her shoulder."
So I talked to little Denise and informed her she wasn't going anywhere, she was staying right here with us until she found a safe place to live and renounced her invisible angel, and that was that. And that was that. She stayed for a few days, then a few more days, and on into months, eating my food, wearing my clothes, wrecking my bike, periodically offering to whip up some "peanut butter and spices on crackers," all the while keeping up a bright soprano patter of thought-free conversation until we had to kill her, with no angelic intervention, and it was a tremendous waste of effort and resources, although the new concrete patio was nice.
At any rate, this situation obviously benefits the cowbirds, who are free to go about hoovering bugs to their big fat hearts' content, since they don't have to do any of the work of maintaining a domicile and child-rearing. It is of no benefit at all to the host birds. Why do they let such a thing happen? Well, cowbirds are stealthy.
They lay a lot of eggs and deposit one each in nests all over the territory, taking advantage of the new lenient bankruptcy laws to restructure corporations, and use the Net Operating Loss Deduction to avoid any taxes at all, while allowing them to borrow money to raid other nests and close some down and sell off the assets, thus transferring all the risk from stockholders to individual taxpayers. Then tax reform encourages them to move factories abroad and escape federal income tax. By the time they pressure Congress to repeal the Glass Seagull Act, there is nothing to stop the cowbird from getting fatter and fatter at the expense of the host birds' own nestlings. The cowbird profits handsomely no matter what befalls the birds that work so hard on their behalf.
You have to wonder if such a scheme is sustainable, of course. If the host birds cannot learn to recognize a fat cowbird squatting in their own nests, they may not survive, and the cowbirds will no longer be able to profit from all of their work. And some species have indeed learned to defend themselves against the cowbirds. What the cowbird does, however, is plant eggs widely and indiscriminately. The American brown-headed cowbird has been observed to parasitize the nests of 220 species. Even if the whole operation falls apart some day, they'll have had a mighty nice run.