Open-eyed wonder

Wikipedia identifies this image as a male brown-headed cowbird courting a female

Native to North America, the brown-headed cowbird (so named for its distinctive brown head, of course, and its habit of following bison herds when they were grazing across the great American plains) has recently been seen in the UK. Surely, however, an eager cowbird male would not casually travel to our garden to find a mate?

I was too slow to snap a photo of a strange-looking bird in our garden, yesterday, with a dark body plumage and a discrete brown head, but I’d like to think that maybe we did have a visitor of the cowbird persuasion. With some wonderment, I tried to identify the odd-looking creature. I’d thought at first it was a juvenile blackbird, and perhaps it was, but then again, what a delight if our garden had been a source of interest to a hungry, foreign bird. It was certainly keen on the animal life it could find in the grass after the heavy rains. But I couldn’t say for sure that the body plumage was iridescent black, as male cowbirds are supposed to have, and in contradistinction to the sun-shaded image above, female heads don’t exhibit such a discrete colour difference. Perhaps I was just cheerfully deluding myself.

I had another occasion to be cheerful this morning, as my little amalgamation of memoir and fiction was published by VisualVerse.org in response to this month’s ekphrastic stimulus. I’d conjured up a different sort of courtship ritual, off-scene as it were, in my piece on Risk Aversion. I really like the brief that the friendly VisualVerse.org folks present on the first of every month: one stimulating image; one hour of writing; one piece submitted. One hundred pieces are published of the several hundred received by mid-month. I’ve been delighted to be among the published number for half a dozen times now.

Sometimes it’s a poetic response that feels appropriate, sometimes prose. I don’t know what you’d call memoir with fictive bits, but it was fun, nevertheless, to spend an hour working on a creative response to a rather bizarre image.

And fun, isn’t that the point: to think, to look, to imagine, to wonder at this and that? Bring on the open-eyed, open-minded joy.

2 responses to “Open-eyed wonder”

  1. Larry, As you will see I think that I’ve missed the point of today’s Joy. Cowbirds are a sore subject with this birdwatcher. Hopefully your possible sighting of a cowbird was a delusion. Indeed the cowbird is a member of the blackbird family but woe be to small British songbirds should the cowbird get established in your area on your side of the pond. The cowbird is a parasitic, freeloader in the bird kingdom. The female does not build a nest but lays up to 3 dozen eggs a season in the nests of other songbirds! Three dozen! The cowbird has other birds sit upon, hatch & feed its young.

    I am only too familiar with the cowbird in my own backyard. I have witnessed a sparrow nested in forsythia hatch the much larger cowbirds’ eggs & work tirelessly to feed the hatchlings of the cowbird. The sparrows’ own hatchlings couldn’t compete for food with their much larger “adopted” nestlings & died. There is so much more that is detestable about them but I won’t bore you. Orthinologists believe that the cowbird has helped speed up the demise of some rare songbirds in North America. I detest them as they add to the demise of finches & sparrows & wrens & other songbirds in my vicinity on this side of the pond. 

    Speaking of Joy I hope that you don’t mind but I feel much better (even joyous) since I’ve both vented & warned a friend about that doggone parasitic cowbird.
    Write on, Henry

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  2. Thank goodness they’re still very rare here, Henry! The sighting I referenced in the link above was from 2010, so maybe not many since. We actually have our own brood parasitic bird here, called the cuckoo! They must have sufficient predators to keep their numbers down, as I don’t think they’re as much of a nuisance as the cowbirds must be. I wonder whether there was a reasonable predator-prey relationship on the American prairies when the buffalo roamed and the cowbirds scavenged after them? Anyway, my point, such as it was, was probably more obscure than just the birds; because of my enquiring mind I chanced upon the courtship display and since I also wanted to chat about this month’s VisualVerse.org submission, which had a passionate relationship at its heart, I thought the courtship thing was kinda neat. That was all, and the serendipity of perhaps finding something rather unique. We can also count grey squirrels here as a negative import too! There’s joy everywhere you look, for sure, even considering parasitic strategies, I think 🙂

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