the cowbird egg of ideas

by | May 8, 2019 | Running a Business | 61 comments

As I shared last week, some birds (I’ve since learned they are house finches) have built a nest on my front door, tucked behind my Christmas wreath.  I have been watching the eggs with excitement and wonder.  As someone who has never been much of a birdwatcher, I’m getting sucked into that fascinating world.

A few nights ago, I peek into the nest (using the camera on my phone, because it’s too high for me to see) and there was one egg that looked different from the rest.  I figured it was the bird equivalent of the black sheep.  For some reason, that egg was just a little larger and had more speckles than the rest.  What also gave me that impression was there were still five eggs.

I shared the picture on Instagram and came to learn about cowbirds.  They are considered parasitic birds who will lay their eggs in the nest of another bird, tricking them into sitting on their egg and raising their young.  Not only did a cowbird insert an egg into the finch’s nest, but she removed one of the finch eggs.

Of course, I’m feeling a sense of injustice for the finches about the entire thing.  I read a few articles about them, though, and I became quite impressed with these cowbird tricksters.

But, it also made me think of how the natural world often imitates things we see in humans.

Jeff, who is a pastor, even said, “There has got to be a sermon illustration in there somewhere.”  He then went into a preacher voice caricature and said, “What is the cowbird egg in your life, my friends?”

But there are so many allegories to be drawn and I thought specifically with creativity and creative business…

How many times are we nurturing an idea and someone else drops another one in the mix?  This comes in the form of here is what “you should do.”  And the interesting thing about cowbirds is they are bigger than the finches.  So their baby will be the dominant hatchling in the nest.  The “should dos” can become more dominant than your “want to dos”.

Here’s the thing about “should dos”…they are usually “put in your nest” out of good intentions.  (I’m not going to put human intentions on the cowbirds, but they are just doing what they do to propagate their own species.)  Anyway, let’s say you have a family member, a friend, a client, a customer, who has an idea that they think will benefit you as a creative or an entrepreneur and they tell you that you should do it.  And maybe it’s a great idea and you enthusiastically sit on it, feed it, raise it, and teach it to fly.  But maybe you do it out of a sense of obligation, out of a desire to please, or a fear of missing out on a potentially good idea, even if it’s not one you’re passionate about.

Or maybe, like the finches, you do it because you’re simply counting the eggs and you’re not aware of which ones are you own and which ones were placed there by someone else.

My point in this obscure analogy is that, as creatives, we need to clean our nests out sometimes (and I don’t just mean organizing our houses.)  We need to take a good look at our ideas, the projects we’re nurturing, the creative choices we’re making, and the curiosities we’re following in order to identify which ones are “want to dos” and which ones are “should dos”.

And I think I’ve been doing too much birdwatching and reading business books!

PS – The eggs started hatching yesterday morning!

PPS – Several people have suggested I remove the cowbird egg from the nest, but I’m not going to.  First of all, it’s illegal.  Cowbirds are native and they are protected.  There is also some evidence that the finch will abandon the nest if one of the five eggs is missing and/or the cowbird will come back to check on her egg and retaliate by destroying eggs and hatchlings if their egg is missing.

While I want to remove the egg, because it was put into the finch nest in a rather underhanded way, I’m just going to let nature take its course and let these birds do what God created them to do.  I have to admit, it’s been fascinating to watch and I’ve learned a lot!

I’m rooting for all of the babies, even the cowbird, to survive and fledge.


  1. Pam

    Marian, let Mother Nature take it’s course. She knows best from eons of years!

  2. Becky

    Having experienced the best on the wreath on the front door situation…. I would suggest that you all stop using your front door completely until the baby birds leave the nest. I felt terrible and guilty when the baby birds on my wreath were startled and flew away before they were actually ready and mature enough to leave their nest one day when I opened my door. Just something’ to consider!! Using another door for a few weeks really wasn’t a problem.

    • Sharon

      I agree. We had this happen with robins and one did did get startled and jump out of the nest before it was ready. Fortunately we have several entries into our home plus I always like to err on the side of compassion!

  3. Julie

    Fascinating thanks so much for sharing !! I hope you will keep us informed of the progress! thanks so much.

  4. Sandra Gumm

    I wonder what the cowbird did with the egg it removed. Me thinks I dislike cowbirds!

    • Marian Parsons

      She removed it from the nest. I’m not sure what she did with it, though. Yeah, it’s hard to like cowbirds, but they are just doing what they do!

      • beverlee lyons

        as they say…’judge not’…we would not do that, but there is a reason for them doing that.

  5. Kristine

    Being “Bird-obsessed”; I loved this article! And it really gave me some thoughts to ponder! I(as I’m sure is true with most people)..have many “un-asked for” “Egg-thoughts/situations” in my life; that bring me much quandary! Thank you for the great analogy! please keep us posted as to the final Fledgling count and results!

    Thank you,

  6. Carol Humphrey

    Enjoying the journey; thanks for sharing.

  7. Liz

    You made me go read up on cowbirds. Found this- Some host species, such as the house finch, feed their young a vegetarian diet. This is unsuitable for young brown-headed cowbirds, meaning almost none survive to fledge. Sad , so maybe you have to go get the cowbird some worms. Is that being too invested ?

    • Marian Parsons

      Ha! I know! The cowbird fledgling can also bully the finches and knock them out of the nest. It is way too much for me try to get involved with my limited understanding of birds! 🙂 I’m just going to let them do what they do and I will root for them all to do well.

  8. Joanie Ellis

    Marian, you have such a great way of writing…… a follower from many years when you started, I have grown with you. Your illustration was great! And I am a bird fancier, so I loved seeing your pictures from the empty nest to the nest eggs, and now birth! How amazing and fun! Thanks for always sharing!

  9. amy joanne mogish

    One of those ‘eggs’ have been thrown into my basket this week….pondering what to do with it. 🙂 . Ah, the creative mind….what to do?!?!? Love your way of looking at things…

  10. Anne Aulbert

    I allowed a mama bird to nest and lay her eggs in my front door wreath a couple of years ago. I could watch them from inside since I have a glass (and wood) front door. While I enjoyed watching the eggs and then the baby birds, I regretted it later — what a huge mess they made. I literally had to scrape bird poop off the glass with a razor blade. For the time they hatch til they leave the nest, all their waste is piling up in the nest and running over. Ever since then, I have been vigilant about keeping watch and removing any “start ups” before eggs are laid. This year I put a fake bird and nest with eggs in it on my wreath. They seem to have gotten the message that this wreath is taken. I also hung a birdhouse near my porch to give them a safe place to nest.

    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, I have been warned about the mess. I’m sure I’ll be annoyed when I’m cleaning it up, but I am enjoying it right now. I agree that I’ll probably take precautions in the future, though, to have them nest elsewhere.

  11. Ramona Thompson

    Your analogy was perfect! Thanks for a great read!

  12. Mary

    Fascinating ❣️ I am totally with you on just allowing them to do what God made them to do 😍. And YES …. rooting for them ALL 👍

  13. Debbie w

    This was an interesting post…Jeff is right….great sermon material!

  14. Donna Doble-Brown

    Am I the only one totally fascinated with that perfectly made nest? Everytime I see it I am just amazed at how they do that . . . . And those sweet babies . . . . Hmmmmm maybe it’s as easy as swapping out an egg so we all learn to get along. Who knew? I had no idea they did this . . . Nature is so wondrous!
    Thanks Marian for sharing yours with us!💗

    • SusieKr

      Donna. I was going to comment on the beautiful perfect nest. Amazing!

    • Julie | Home On The Hill

      I am also amazed at the neatness of many bird nests – try googling ‘willy wagtail nest’ – amazing nests made with cobwebs and grass that look like little felted cups that they attach to the most unusual places and line with fleece from sheep, or at our place from our alpacas. We had one on our grape arbour one year, a perfect circle of a nest! These are birds you can love – friendly, good parents and tidy! LOL

      A great You Tube video called ‘Raising Willie – Nesting birds, Australian Willie Wagtails growing up’ is worth looking up – it shows them raising chicks & even removing the babies droppings!

  15. Kim

    I am so thankful for the words that you shared. They actually brought me to tears! My nest is overflowing with cowbird eggs right now, and I can feel the heavy weight of all those “shoulds.” Why is it so hard for us to say ”no?” Sometimes when I get so many shoulds on my plate I just want to shut everyone out so they cannot ask for one more thing from me. I know that is so wrong, but it is honestly how I feel. I am sure I add “eggs” to other people’s nests too (probably my children the most). This is a wonderfully timely reminder for me to evaluate and be intentional about how I spend my time and what I ask from others. I do not want to be a cowbird and snuff out someone else’s time and creativity!!! Thank you for this beautiful picture and mini sermon!

    • Marian Parsons

      Oh, beautifully said! Your response made me a little teary. And what a great point that we probably put those eggs in the nests of our children. We want them to discover what they love and those good intentions of classes and sports and lessons can turn into “should dos” that weigh them down. Very well said!

  16. Karen

    Boo… Cowbirds! I’ve never heard of them so I had to look them up. Sorry I did.
    Just read that since Cowbirds do not raise their own young, there is not a close bond between males and females. Therefore, they are not monogamous breeders. Because female Cowbirds do not expend energy on nest building and brood rearing, they are able to lay 40 eggs per season in other species’ nests. Females can, therefore, lay an average of 80 eggs, 40 eggs per year for 2 years.
    When a female Cowbird lays an egg in a host nest, they will remove or sometimes even eat one of the host species’ eggs the day before or the day after they lay their egg in the nest.
    Sometimes Cowbird nestlings will even knock other eggs out of the nest or smother other nestlings to ensure they are fed.
    I’m just going try to reflect on the sermon/analogy.

    • Marian Parsons

      Ha, I know! I made the mistake of watching some YouTube videos on cowbirds and it’s terrible to watch them throwing little hatchlings out of their own nest! It’s hard to like cowbirds, that’s for sure. But, there are a lot of species that use equally unlikeable tactics to survive and reproduce. It is fascinating to see the order of it, but hard when we attach human emotions to it.

    • Leslie

      We just finished a bird unit in homeschool and read all about cowbirds. It’s hard to see their breeding habits, but what IS fascinating about them is their instinct. Even though the eggs are laid in another birds nest and have no contact with other cowbirds the whole time they’re incubating and too young to fly, once they can fly and leave the nest, their instincts kick in and they find other cowbirds. They’ve never seen a cowbird, heard a cowbird, smelled a cowbird, but they know how to find other cowbirds and then become part of a cowbird community. It’s amazing when you think about it.

  17. Bev

    I can hardly wait for the rest of the story.

  18. Mary Lou Puller

    I think it is the right decision to leave the nest alone and let nature do what it’s intended to do. You have a huge audience and someone needed to hear what you had to say about the birds and the nest and the babies and what you believe it all means in the big scheme of things. I believe there’s a reason for everything that happens and I think you did your job very well and God reached that person though your voice.

  19. Janet in Kansas City

    There are brown-headed cowbirds near my dad’s place. When they chirp it sounds like a drop of water falling into a pond. Love your analogy. My former pastor, now retired, does life plans with people. If you ever feel like that would benefit you I could point you in his direction. You know, in case the cowbird ideas start to take over your creative life! But you seem to be very good at knowing where you’re going and weeding out the unnecessary.

  20. Michele M.

    Great post – so nice to learn about other things besides decor occassionally. Thanks!

    From Michele at the (on hiatus) blog called The Nest at Finch Rest…… ♥♥♥ I absolutely love birds AND decor!
    And tea parties and my 2 year old grand daughter………………and and and and…………..

  21. Vicki Cotnoir

    Amazing that not only one but 2 birds found your wreath! Did your research say how the cowbirds find the nests?

    • Marian Parsons

      I did! Apparently, they follow and observe over 200 species of birds and will watch for active nests. They can lay dozens of eggs in one season in dozens of different nests! It’s pretty amazing.

  22. Lori Kandice

    Oh Marian! I can testify to the damage the cowbird will do if you remove her egg. It’s so sad! You’re really wise to leave it alone and just observe.

  23. Suzanne Reiersen

    A dear knitting friend once said to me, “SuzAnne, please don’t ‘should’ on yourself”. Context was a comment I made about a section of cables I should rip out and start again. So, Marion, please don’t “should” on yourself. Written with the kindest intention.

    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, totally! We all need to be freed from “shoulding on ourselves!”

  24. Debbie H.

    This has to be one of your best posts EVA! God bless nature and all that He has created! What a lovely miracle!

  25. Darlene

    Great information and wonderful analogy… ❤️
    Off to research those bad Cowbirds.

  26. Kayleen Trajceski

    Have loved the nest story, what a wonderful journey. I had a Willie Wagtail nest under my patio one year, she raised 4 babies & either mother Wagtail or one of her babies returns each year & the cycle begins again, it’s now 5yrs down the track, constantly amazed by mother nature.😊

  27. Nita

    Loved this post. What a great photo of those baby birds. I hope this is the start of on-going bird watching for you, Marian. They are a very amusing and wonderful part of the natural world.

  28. Naomi S

    So interesting about the cowbirds, Marian. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one or read anything about them. They are stinkers, aren’t they? I wonder if they are native to the U.S. Maybe they came from another location where they are or were endangered, thus their penchant for laying so many eggs a year. Although that wouldn’t explain their stealing other birds’ nests and not rearing their own young. Strange species.

    I liked your little meditation on the importance of evaluating which creative paths are the ones we truly want to own and follow. It was thought-provoking and I shall be thinking more on it. Thanks for posting those tho’ts.


    Marian, this was such a wonderful post! I learned so much! I’m happy that you let that bird make its nest in your wreath! I’m not too sure about the Cowbird! What an experience this is to be able to watch all this! When Jeff delivers his sermon, please put it on your post so we can all listen to it!

    Thanks for sharing with us! We look forward to more pictures! Blessings!

  30. Vanessa

    Love this post, from the beginning to the end of the comments. I appreciate your anology. We’ve had finches and wrens build or attempt to build their nests on our front porch for years now. It was fun to watch them out the living room windows when they were building them in a planter on the coffee table, not so much on the ledge above the front door. What a mess that was. Now my husband cuts a piece of cardboard that just fits between the ledge and the roof so they can’t create their masterpieces.
    Since you’ve taken this first step down the bird watching trail you might enjoy the PBS documentary, The Egg: Life’s Perfect Invention. I’m really not a bird person, but this was fascinating.

  31. Holley

    The same thing has happened to a nest of Juncos in my daughter’s garden in the past – we NOW REMOVE the cowbird eggs! Watching the much smaller, adult junco trying to keep a vociferous, pushy, demanding , cowbird young fed wasn’t just more than we could stomach! We wondered how the juncos own offspring fared with this free loading cowbird bully taking advantage of everyone else because HE CAN! We are bird lovers, but sometimes you have to intervene.

  32. PJ

    Well said, Marian! These lessons apply to areas of life other than creativity. As I look back in time, I realize that a lack of confidence, or a desire to please, when I was younger led me to make important decisions based on what others thought I “should” do rather than following my own inner voice.

  33. Laurie

    Fascinating! Please keep us up to date with photos. It’s amazing that they can’t see yet but are hungry and so vulnerable. I hope the cowbird & hatchling behave themselves but I won’t be surprised if they don’t.

  34. Sandi Graham

    This story reminded me of a time when a bird nest fell out of our front yard Maple tree . Demonstrating how inventive birds can be, carefully weaved in to the beautiful bird nest was the remnants of a small American Flag.
    Sadly the nest never survived the fall. I remember photographing it . The mama bird must have been a true patriot!
    Thanks, Marian for all of your posts!

  35. Jodi O'Rourke

    I love your analogy! I am a creative 3 months into a big role, working to fit into a new handwriting & be confident in my ideas as well as respecting the team I have joined. Not sure if that makes me the finch, but I like applying this thought to my situation.

  36. beverlee lyons

    You are so smart to be so young. You have someone important on your side, tho.
    Great post.

  37. Peggy

    Marion, I think I found your husbands sermon. As soon as I saw that one odd egg in the nest, it reminded me of family. I am sure all parents see each of their children as unique individuals. I know in my family, each of us has a different and special relationship with one another. Just like this nest, we all have to learn to live with each other and get along despite our differences. However, every once in a while, there is always one that will ruffle some feathers. Have a wonderful day. I am enjoying the birds. Excited to see what the baby cowbird looks like, compared to the other babies.

  38. Joyce Hale

    Amen ! Teaches us to nuture
    What we have been given ,or entrusted with . Great insight !

  39. Lynda

    Hi Marian,

    This is so fascinating. I don’t think we have cowbirds here in Maryland but I love birds and nature and find this interesting. I also agree you should leave mother nature alone. The baby birds are adorable! Good luck with the clean up when they are done. Been there done that. :-O

  40. Mary

    I love this post. I love birds. Some are harder to love than others. Just like people.

  41. Marilee

    What a great thing for your boys to experience firsthand, too.

  42. Lillian

    Good lesson! I regularly encourage people not to should on themselves. Now, I resign from cow-birding others as well as other codependent fixings! These errors are distractions to someone following the Holy Spirit. God gives His plans, purposes, & the grace to accomplish them! Someone might encourage another if the Lord confirms… It is the Lord Who initiates.

  43. Pamela

    I hope the baby cowbird doesn’t try to kill the baby finches. Now THAT would really upset me if that nest were at my house. I’m also glad you’re not using the door. You never knew, by accident you could end up with a bird in your house and having lived through that, along with a squirrel once, who JUMPED on me, and a few other critters in the house or the yard that aren’t “normal”. I do NOT recommend allowing anything to happen that would even remotely let a bird get in the house. It’s a nightmare, trust me.

    • Marian Parsons

      I’ve heard the cowbirds sometimes push their host babies out of the nest, but not always. I agree with you that I hope that doesn’t happen! Not on my front door!

  44. Kat

    I used to feel bad for the finch. I looked up cowbirds and read about how they kill songbirds. Now I’m at my daughters where every songbird in Texas has been outside my window long before the sun. I am now team cowbird.

    • Marian Parsons

      Oh my gosh, so funny! Well, God put cowbirds on this earth for a reason, so I’m going to let it play out.

  45. Sheila

    I cant help but notice how beautiful that nest is. I have identified 3 places in my yard where robins nest every year. Once the babies fly away, the nest is abandoned and I harvest the nests if they haven’t fallen out of the tree. I love them. I put them in the garage for a while and wait to see if the nests are infested with insects but they never are. They are also very clean. There is no bird poop. Once I even got a nest that still had egg fragments in it. I use them to decorate my home and sometimes I sell them in my booth at the antique mall. I like to put faux robins eggs in them and put them under a cloche or in a vintage florists milkglass flower base. I bet yours would look great in a piece of ironstone.

  46. Katie Mansfield

    I was just telling my son about cow birds last week. He said, “That is so wrong.” I too thought that there were many analogies. I need an update. What happened to the babies?


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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