Excerpt from
The Jensen Family

Probably he got caught in a steel trap like this one over here," their dad said, pointing to an exhibit in the next case.
"But how could he get free from that?" Julie asked.

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– posted 12.04.2009

#52- Cowbird Characters

A Character story about responsibility.

"Hi, Dad," Jason greeted as he burst into the living room with his new friend. "You're home early."
"Yes. I was -"
"Dad, guess what!" Jason interrupted, too excited to wait. "You know that science project Jonathan and I did on weather? Oh . . . uh . . . Dad, this is my good friend Jonathan."
"How do you do, Sir," Jonathan greeted politely.
"I'm glad to meet you," Mr. Jensen returned. "Jason has talked about you a lot and I'm glad to be able to meet you in person."
"Anyway," Jason continued, "we got our reports back today and Mr. Parkinson not only liked ours, but he wrote on it- well- let me show you." Jason plopped his book bag onto the floor and rummaged through it until he found the report. "See here? He wrote 'very creative, interesting, challenging,' and then he wrote 'Thank you for your effort in going beyond the requirements.' And best of all we both got an A on it!"
"Wow! That is great," Mr. Jensen cheered. "That just goes to show you that it always pays off to do your best for the Lord." Just then Julie came in with another girl.
"Come on, Jonathan," Jason said, "I want to show you the neat fort we made in the summer."
"Hi, Daddy," Julie greeted. "I want you to meet a new friend of mine. This is Jonathan's sister, Bethany. She's staying here until supper while her mom works at their church."
"Nice to meet you, Bethany. Are you in Julie's class too?"
"No," Julie interrupted, "she's a year younger." Bethany just nodded.
"Well, we're glad you could come over, Bethany. Uh, Sissy, how did your science project turn out?"
"Oh, all right, I guess. Cassandra and I got an B+ on ours. Mr. Parkinson said it was good, but there were several misspelled words. I'm just glad it's over."
"Why is that?" Mr. Jensen asked.
"Because, I felt like a dentist trying to pull teeth to get Cassandra to do anything. I don't want to be critical, but the only part she really did was recopy half of it and that was the part with the misspelled words. If I wanted to get any kind of good grade, I had to do almost everything myself. And now she gets a good grade for doing almost nothing. It just doesn't seem fair."
Mr. Jensen smiled. "I agree. Sounds like you had a cowbird for a project partner."
"A cowbird?" Julie asked.
"Yes. There are bound to be some brown-headed cowbirds living near us because they live throughout the United States and Canada. This lazy bird will watch when another bird lays her eggs. Then when mom is gone, the cowbird will push one of the eggs out of the nest and lay one of her own in its place. After doing this to five or six birds, a different nest each time, the cowbird has successfully shirked her responsibility of hatching her own eggs and caring for her own young. She says, 'let the other birds do that for me.'"
"That's pretty lazy," Julie responded. "So what happens when this cowbird egg hatches?"
"Well, often the cowbird egg will hatch before the others. So now the foster mother has to feed this stranger while still trying to care for her eggs. Even after the other eggs hatch, the cowbird is larger and demands more of the food. The real babies will often starve. Even after leaving the nest, the cowbird still demands to be fed until it's finally large enough to join other cowbirds and eventually to do just what its mom did."
"Boy," Julie protested, "that would make me mad if I saw it. Why does the nice mother bird let a strange egg stay in her nest? Doesn't she recognize it?"
"That depends on the bird. Some just tolerate the intrusion and go on with their normal duties. But some birds won't allow the cowbird egg to stay. The robin for example will push it over the side. The yellow warbler will build another nest on top of the old one and start over. The house wren will even crack the egg so it won't hatch."
"Good for them," Julie announced. "I'd hate to have an intruder like that in our house. That's kind of like forced adoption, isn't it?"
"Yes, I guess that's a good way to put it. But the lesson reminds us to make sure we are each doing our part to make the household run smoothly. We can't lay all the work on one person, especially those things that are our responsibilities."
"I get the hint," Julie groaned. "I need to clean my room."
"Well, I wasn't hinting at anything, but if that needs to be done, you wouldn't want to leave it for mother, would you?"
"Not after hearing about the cowbird. I'd feel terrible if I left what I'm supposed to do for mom. Come on, Bethany, maybe you could help me straighten up a few things and then I'll show you some of my neat collection of dolls."
But as they headed for the stairs, Mr. Jensen caught the glitter of a tear running down Bethany's cheek.
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DID YOU KNOW . . .
*That the incubation period (from laying to hatching) of a cowbird is the shortest of any songbird?
*A cowbird does not push other baby birds out of the nest. Because it gets a head start, gets most of the food, and grows faster and larger, the cowbird simply forces the other babies out to starve?
*Cowbirds do not invade the nests of woodpeckers, wrens, chickadees, bluebirds, or nuthatches because they make nests in holes of trees making it too difficult for the cowbird to work?
*The cowbird got its name because it would feed on insects stirred up by the hooves of the cattle?