Sound Ideas: The Cowbird’s Lament

by Carl Strang

Today’s song is from back in my storyteller days. I wrote an extended story, “Dandelion,” about a boy adjusting to moving to another state and starting in a new school. It is not easy for him, but he receives help in his dreams from a character named Dandelion, who introduces him to animals and plants whose lessons help Richard to adjust.

Cowbird, one of Richard’s teachers

Cowbird, one of Richard’s teachers

Here is the part of the script leading to the song:

Dandelion returned, then. He seemed happy. “Well, Richard, I’m quite proud of you, I am. You’ve taken some important steps today. Not only have you accepted responsibility for what is happening to you at school, but you are trying out new ways to behave that will get you where you want to be. I see you’ve taken a special interest in Cowbird. Certainly questions of responsibility always seem to follow him around.”

Richard was startled by a voice coming from behind him. “Ah’m over here, Podnuh.” There was, well, if you can imagine it, a bird in cowboy clothes. [become bowlegged] He had on a brown cowboy hat, his feathers were a glossy dark green, and he wore chaps and cowboy boots with spurs. Or, were those just his backwards-pointing toes, one on each foot, coming out through holes in the backs of the boots?

Richard said, “You’re the cowbird. You lay eggs in other birds’ nests.”

“Well, mah wife does that. Ah just stands watch.”

“Don’t you feel guilty, doing that?”

“Why, no, not really, You have to be careful about judging nature. The rules of the wild aren’t always the same as human rules. You see, we cowbirds once followed the bison. When the buffalo roamed, so did we. That meant we couldn’t stay in one place long enough to raise our own chicks, so we had to give our eggs over to other, more stay-at-home kinds of birds. The thing is, now that the bison don’t roam so much, we could raise our chicks, if only we knew how. But we cowbirds have depended on others to be foster parents for so long, we can’t easily go back to doing it ourselves. It’s a pure tragedy.”

The Cowbird’s Lament (by Carl Strang copyright ©1995)

I’m a cowbird chasing cows now that the buffalo are gone,

And the prairie that we knew is so much pastureland and lawns.

We once wandered, followed bison over all the great wide plains.

Now we stay here, causing trouble with our reproductive games.

We find a nest unguarded. My wife, she sneaks in close.

And when we have departed, we’ve one more egg to boast.

[aside:] And our young’un gets raised by our host.

I never know my children. We leave them all behind.

All forty-seven of them, weighs heavy on my mind.

But what really gets me worried, what really yanks my spurs,

Is that they, like us, will grow up to be egg abandoners.

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1 Comment

  1. Lisa Rainsong said,

    January 6, 2014 at 11:57 am

    I greatly appreciate your account of the Cowbird. I know they are a huge problem for forest birds, and I also know it’s not their fault. They are fascinating birds whose songs are quite beautiful.


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