Parasitic Bird Egg


One of these eggs is not like the others.  I’ve been watching this Red-winged Blackbird nest and a cowbird did what Cowbirds do and laid an egg in it, leaving the care of her young to another.  This is known as brood parasitism.

Coincidentally, a day after finding the cowbird egg, I heard a program on NPR’s Radiolab about the Kirtland’s Warbler.  Habitat disappearing and the Cowbird were thought to lead to the decline and almost extinction of the Kirtland’s Warbler.  So they started trapping and killing Cowbirds, and burning the Jack Pine forests to help new growth which is what Kirtland’s Warblers nest in.  The efforts were deemed successful when the population grew, but the costs were questionable as a deadly forest fire took the life of a young man.  They talk to the man’s family on the show.

I learned about Iatrogenesis from Nassim Taleb’s book, Fooled by Randomness.  It’s when someone causes harm while trying to help.  And now I believe myself to be in that category, because, just as I feared, a predator ate all four eggs.

I mowed around the nest attempting to spare it, only to mark it for predators.  Another person would have mowed it up, allowing the mother to begin immediately building a new nest and laying more eggs.  I, with my good intentions, cost the blackbird a week of prime nesting time and a cowbird one young.

Which brings me around to why I think it’s not worth preserving the Kirtland’s Warbler, besides the cost of a human life.  We can’t begin to understand all the effects of our tampering.  According to Radiolab, Michigan is using over 100 people and spending over a million dollars to maintain a habitat for the Kirtland’s Warbler.  And it’s working as numbers rise, but what effect is it having on everything else?  Like it or not, we are a part of nature.

5 Responses to Parasitic Bird Egg

  1. adunate says:

    My son used to work for the City of Madison Park District and he said the same thing. When they would work to preserve one area of nature, they inevitably would do so at the expense of another.

    I find that same concept true in my efforts to live sustainably. We live in a rural area and raise our own food. I also work from home, which limits my consumption of fuel. Yet, no matter where I go, whether it’s to town for just a few groceries or to a meeting with clients, I have to drive a minimum of 10 miles. Compare that to the person living in large city who walks or uses public transportation.

    Is there truly a way we can live without affecting someone or something else? I don’t think so.

    The eggs are so beautiful, by the way. Glad you got a picture of them!

  2. I heard the same Radiolab show, and I think it’s probably worth it to preserve the Kirtland’s habitat. They were using prescribed burns to clear out the overly mature forest, and that kind of thing has benefits for all of us. Decades of suppressed wildfire activity can have some ugly consequences, just ask Arizona, California and Colorado.

    In the vein of “We are a part of nature.” I’ve been wanting to get ahold of a copy of Emma Marris’s “Rambunctious Garden.” but I haven’t had time to track it down yet.

  3. Chris says:

    “The best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley” said Bobby Burns. It is a humbling realization.

    Iatrogenesis is a big concept in medicine. There are many ills that result from overzealous overtreatment in medicine . . .

  4. bruceki says:

    Out here in Washington state they’re flooding 300 acres of good farmland and spending $18 million dollars initially + $300k a year in maintenance in the hopes of increasing a salmon run by 900 fish. That’s a cost of $20k per fish initially. The government here will spend any amount to save the salmon.

    It’s particularly obnoxious because they say “we purchased from a willing seller” — when the government is your competition for farmland, they have more money and care less about that money than you do yours, and it is very hard to outbid them. They don’t care what they pay, nor do they ever have to make a profit.

  5. Thank you for your comments.
    Clarification: They are spending over a million dollars annually, with no end in sight.

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