Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | October 18, 2017

Kepler Finds Strange Eggs

(5 Minute Read)

Eastern Phoebe

Woof! Woof! This is Kepler again, Master’s Parson (Jack) Russell terrier. I’m writing another article for Master’s blog.

Master is the BibleScienceGuy, and he asked me to tell about finding bird eggs on our camping trips this year. It happened to me four different times!

First I told about finding killdeer eggs, and then my second egg report was about finding robin eggs. Today I will tell you about some very strange eggs we found as our third find.

I LOVE all kinds of eggs, so these finds I will tell you about today were very exciting for me. But our last find was the very best of all. I will tell about that one in my next egg story.

Phoebe Eggs

The next day following my robin eggs adventure, we found six more bird eggs in another nest. This nest was atop a light fixture at the campground check-in station.

I found it because I could smell a phoebe sitting on the nest. Above is a picture of an Eastern Phoebe like the one I found nesting. The bird’s call is a sharp chirp, and its song is “fee-bee,” which gives the bird its name.

I pulled and barked and pulled and barked as we were passing the campground office, but at first Master didn’t believe me that there was a bird nesting there. Even though his nose is big, it doesn’t work very well for smelling things.

4 White Phoebe Eggs &
2 Speckled Cowbird Eggs

Master said this plump little songbird is a flycatcher. I had no idea you could get so fat simply by eating flies. I don’t mind ingesting an occasional fly or two, but a fly diet does not appeal to me. I suggested that we catch a phoebe to live in our camper and take care of the flies that like to travel with us. Venus flytraps and phoebes should take care of the pesky flies.

After I found the phoebe, I thought the nest was too high to collect any eggs. So I was eager to get going on to something else. (Missus says my idle is set high.) But we found a log to stand on and reached our camera up high to see what was in the nest.

And puppy was I surprised when I saw the picture! Here’s the picture we took of the nest. Do you notice anything unusual?

In the nest were six eggs from two different types of birds — four white phoebe eggs (not surprising) and two speckled cowbird eggs!

Cowbirds

The Brown-headed Cowbird is a small brown-headed black bird. It often stays near cattle feeding on the insects stirred up by the herd. It is best known for being nest-parasitic. This means that the cowbird lays its eggs in nests of other birds. It often lays in robin nests, but robins usually reject the cowbird eggs. The cowbird has more success laying in phoebe nests like the one I found.

A cowbird will distribute its eggs among several nests. Robin, phoebe, or sparrow nests are frequent choices, but the cowbird has 220 known and documented hosts for its eggs, including raptors and hummingbirds. It’s amazing that it can even fit its egg in a hummingbird’s nest.

Brown-headed Cowbird

Here is a picture of an adult male brown-headed cowbird. It has a brown head with an iridescent black body and is a little smaller than a robin. The female cowbird is slightly smaller than the male with gray plumage. We saw lots of brown-headed cowbirds at that campground.

Usually the cowbird will only lay a single orphan egg in an adopted host nest. Master’s picture above of two cowbird eggs in a phoebe nest is rather rare. I was quite proud to have found it for him. We don’t know whether a single female cowbird laid both eggs or whether two different female cowbirds used the same host nest.

The female cowbird watches for when the host bird lays her eggs. Then when the nest is empty, the cowbird darts in, quickly lays its own egg, and scoots off. She lays her egg in about 40 seconds. This compares with periods of 21-103 minutes to lay an egg for other perching songbirds.

She continues to watch the nest after laying her egg. If the host rejects the cowbird egg, the female cowbird sometimes destroys the host’s eggs. The cowbird depends on the host to incubate, feed, and raise its young.

Female cowbirds have laid as many as 77 eggs in one season. Of the 220 known nest hosts for cowbird eggs, 140 hosts are known to have successfully raised cowbirds. One problem is that cowbirds sometimes lay their eggs in nests of hosts that feed a vegetarian diet to their hatchlings, such as the house finch. This diet does not work for cowbird hatchlings, and they do not survive to fledge. Other hosts consistently eject cowbird eggs from the nest or reject the cowbird nestling.

Cowbird eggs hatch in 10-11 days, whereas most altricial (hatched in an undeveloped state requiring feeding by parents) bird eggs take 14 days to hatch. This gives cowbird hatchlings a jump on the host hatchlings. They start growing and eating before the host’s eggs even hatch and out-compete the host hatchlings for food. This often results in the death of some or all of the host’s own hatchlings. Sometimes a cowbird chick will even kill its host’s chicks when food is scarce.

Kepler’s Big Idea

Missus and Master are quick thinkers. I can’t keep up with them. I can move quicker and faster than they can, but I’m not as quick as they are at thinkin’. I like to mull over a topic, turning it round and round and round in my mind till it’s thoroughly considered. Often I cock my head and look at Master, and he can tell I’m pondering some topic. Master says that for a dog I’m quite a thinker.

Even though I consider slowly, I’m still a dog with lots of ideas. They bubble up in my head constantly. Sometimes they percolate so fast that I can hardly keep up. Learning about cowbirds prompted an idea that I thought Master might view favorably.

My thinking went like this:
– Phoebes are good birds — they catch flies and have a pleasing song.
– Cowbirds are interlopers. They may destroy the phoebe eggs or nestlings.
– Two cowbird eggs is an especially dangerous situation for the young phoebes.
– We can help the phoebes (and me) by putting the two cowbird eggs in my food bowl.

I often hear Master say “keep thinking” or “think it through.” So I did some careful thinkin’. I went over this logical progression of thought several times . . . couldn’t find any fault with it. Aha, I thought. This time I’m going to get some eggs! I laid before Master my case for moving the cowbird eggs to my food bowl.

Master complimented me on my logical thinking, but he said we were leaving the campground and didn’t have time to get the eggs, much less explain to the park rangers why we were climbing around the camp office building. Besides, Master said, the more you disturb a nest, the more likely the mother bird is to abandon it. So he said we would just leave it alone. I was crestfallen.

But then Master said he would give me a piece of bacon instead. That fixed it! If there’s one think I like better than eggs, it is bacon. I will gladly trade 10 eggs for 1 piece of bacon any day. And it’s even better if it is fatty and raw, straight off the pig. Yum! Yum!

Master has bacon AND eggs for breakfast almost every day. I love this, because often I get some bacon grease poured over my food. Sometimes he lets me lick his plate. When I’m finished, Master tries to slip his plate into the cabinet, but Missus always intercepts it and puts it in the dishwasher. It used to hurt my feelings, but I’m accustomed to her finickyness now.

Next time I write, I will tell about finding wood duck eggs. Can you guess why I think that was the best egg find of all?

So that’s how things look from the Dog House!

Till next time, this is Kepler signing off. Woof! Woof!

Questions to Ponder

1. If you find a cowbird’s egg as a stowaway in another bird’s nest, should you remove it or let it hatch?
2. Why would the Great Creator design dogs with such a love for eggs when it can cause such damage?

Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.

Soli Deo Gloria.

This is the 24th article in a series of blog posts on a precocious Jack Russell terrier named Kepler. Numbers 1-8 are by Kepler’s master, the BibleScienceGuy. Numbers 9-25 are by Kepler himself.
Read the prequels:
1. Why I Named Our Puppy “Kepler”
2. Kepler’s Kind
3. Kepler’s Lopsided Trade
4. Kepler’s Amazing Nose
5. Kepler’s Business Card
6. Kepler & the Psycho Squirrel
(with video)
7. Taunting Kepler
8. Adam and Puppies

The following posts are by Kepler:
9. Who Taught Kepler?
10. Kepler Gets a Buddy
(with video)
11. Kepler Chases a Squirrel (with video)
12. Kepler’s Complaint
13. Kepler’s To-Do List
14. Kepler and the Football Weekend
15. Kepler’s Favorite Store
16. Kepler at a Truck Stop
17. Kepler & Henry Catch a Squirrel
18. Kepler Finds Killdeer Eggs
19. Kepler Finds Robin Eggs
20. Kepler Lives to Tell the Tale
21. Kepler, Bears, & Raccoons
22. Kepler Mentors Henry
23. Kepler Gets a Bear

Read the sequel:
25. Kepler Finds Duck Eggs

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Wednesday October 18, 2017 A.D.

But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you;
And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you.
Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you;
And let the fish of the sea declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
That the hand of the LORD has done this,
In whose hand is the life of every living thing,
And the breath of all mankind?
(Job 12:7-10)


Responses

  1. You know, Kepler is one of my favorite writers! Please give him an extra piece of bacon on my recommendation.
    My dog, “Roosevelt” tips his hat to Kepler. So long as Kepler keeps his paws and kisses to himself and doesn’t try to steal affection from Roosevelt’s family for himself.

    Like

    • Thanks for reading my articles, Gwennon, and for your encouraging words. And thanks for getting me an extra bacon strip. Master said I earned it. Woof! Woof! – Kepler.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You are so welcome, almost-favorite dog-friend.

        Like


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