How the Cowbird Saved the Day

If you look at our letters from Belize nos 43 and 44 you will see an ongoing record of a Hooded Oriole’s nest that was parasitized by what we now know to be the Bronzed Cowbird. Our friend Adam told us this wonderful story from the ancient Maya.

The Maya people had been going through hard times. There had been a long drought, crops were failing and the lands were dried up. The God, Itzamna, warned the people that there would be a fire through the lands and all the birds were given the task to collect seeds from every species of plant and tree to prevent total loss. Each bird was to choose which plant it thought was the most important and the Cowbird decided that as the corn was the staple crop of the people, the very essence of life, it was by far the most important seed to preserve.

It is said that at that time the Cowbird was most beautiful with glorious colourful plumage. When the fire started, unconcerned for herself, she prayed to Cosmic Bird, the resplendent Quetzal, for courage to fulfill her dangerous task. Emboldened by the help from Quetzal she braved the raging fire and managed to salvage the seed but in the process she lost her beautiful feathers.

All the other birds applauded her and told Itzamna of her immense courage. He asked them what they felt should be her reward and after giving it some thought they replied that henceforth the Cowbird should no longer have to build her own nests but should be allowed to lay her eggs in the nests of the other birds and they would tend and raise her chicks.

So that is how it is that we came to be witness to an extraordinary event in nature.

Today the Cowbird is plain brown, gone the glorious plumage.

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