Then God said to me, “Look, I am going to measure my people Israel by plumb line. - Amos 7:8
Identification is at the heart of birdwatching. Although typically about humans identifying birds, there is one species that humans wonder how the bird identifies itself. Brown-headed Cowbirds are nest parasites, which means that they will lay eggs in the nests of other species in hopes that they will raise them as their own. Like chickens (and unlike most migratory species), Cowbird females are able to lay multiple eggs over an extended period of time. Some host species will recognize that one egg is not the same and either remove it or abandon the nest. Other species, compelled by powerful parental instincts will incubate the egg and attempt to meet the demands of the foreign nestling along with their own. Often this results in the deaths of the nest mates and even sometimes of the devoted parents who can’t keep up with the needs of the larger invader!
But the question remains, how does a baby Cowbird know that it is a Cowbird and not a Yellow Warbler, or Song Sparrow, or any of the other 200 species whose nest it might be in? Recent research has discovered that the mother, remembering where she has laid eggs, continues to visit the nests. Once the young are able to fly, they slip off at night to roost together with other Cowbirds, presumably learning Cowbird ways and forming an allegiance to their true species.
The ancient prophet, Amos, had a vision where God told him that the people were going to be judged about their allegiance. The king had strayed from God’s ways and it was time to choose God’s way or the highway. To this day, it is tempting to identify with the nest we find ourselves in, even if we are not of the same species. But if we pay attention in the quiet hours even in the darkest hours, we can sense the presence or our mother calling us to gather with our siblings and now our true identity.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, sing to us that we might hear our true voice and join in because all your creatures got a place in the choir. Amen.