Mama cowbirds wait until a bird of a different species has left her nest unattended, then sneak over real quick to lay one of their own eggs before flying off, ditching the egg for other birds to raise. Presumably so they can go out partying and stuff.
There’s no mistaking a cowbird chick in the nest. Cowbird eggs have an unusually fast incubation period that allows cowbird chicks to hatch before the native chicks, giving them a head start in life. As a result, cowbird chicks are pretty obnoxious-looking next to their foster siblings.
My sister says I’m built like a hummingbird. It’s true. I’m tiny. I’m tiny enough that total strangers like to stop me on the street and tell me I need to eat more cheeseburgers. (Disclaimer: I eat tons of cheeseburgers.)
And it’s not just that I’m skinny. I’m built hummingbird-size all over, all delicate and bird-boned. With one notable nine-month exception, I’ve been the same size and shape since I was 14. Which, for scale reference, is about the same size and shape as the average 12-year-old girl.
Over the last few years, puberty hit Miss G full force, shooting her up a few inches past me, and adding a bunch of decidedly non-hummingbird-like curves all over the place. At my sister’s house one day, Miss G ran in, burst out one of her chirpy explosions about something or other, and dashed back out again, maybe giving me a quick hug in the middle of that someplace.
My sister watched her leave, laughing, and said: “She’s like a cowbird next to your little hummingbird body.”
It’s true. Miss G is nothing like me in build.
She’s nothing like me in personality, either. In fact, she is so little like me in every possible way that if she weren’t so exactly like her dad, I’d be concerned that someone pulled a cowbird on me at the hospital.
Because of this, raising Miss G has been sort of… bemusing. I know her better than anyone else does, and yet she remains an alien mystery even to me.
I don’t look at her and feel the pull of the familiar. I feel like I’m raising someone else’s chick, a chick who looks more like a different species every day. I don’t love her any less for it though. Instead, I find myself curious about what she’ll do next.
I expect more parents start feeling this way about their teenagers; I’ve felt like this from her birth. Like the universe just handed me this small bright spirit and said “Here, see what you can do with this.”
How I feel about being a mother hasn’t changed in the last 14.5 years. I’m honored that she chose me. Honored, and maybe confused that she thought I was the best person for the job, and definitely unsure myself that I’m up to the challenge.
But my cowbird? She thrives. I’m glad she ended up in my nest.