Brown-headed Cowbirds evoke strong feelings in many birders, some of whom can’t abide a bird that lays its eggs in other birds’ nests, often to the detriment of the nest owners’ offspring. But there is much to like about cowbirds.  Though the female is bland the male is quite snappy with his glossy black body and brown head.  And while a thriving cowbird population pretty much demands the destruction of at least some individuals of other species one really can’t blame the cowbird for exploiting a successful reproductive strategy.  But regardless of how you feel about cowbirds we can all agree that the music of the cowbird leaves something to be desired.  However, their poetry, especially that of M. Ater, the cowbirds’ answer to W. Shakespeare, is simply amazing!  What am I talking about?  Read on, dear reader, and be introduced to the amazing work of the cowbird poet!

The three poems that follow are representative of  M. Ater’s work.  Enjoy!

You have gargled and bowed and proven you’re best
You are certainly hotter than all of the rest
Of the male cowbirds that are part of my crew.
So, darling cowbird, are you ready to do

What we cowbirds have done for thousands of years
And make more cowbirds to other birds’ tears?
You stood out from my coterie with your head of mocha
So come over here and let me show you my cloaca!*


To My Eggs
I’ll lay you here in whose nest I know not
And will avoid you as an infant and tot.
No feeding times will my energy tax
And I’ll never carry your fecal sacs.

Though I leave you behind, child of mine,
Never to hear you cry and whine,
You I still love and I’ll be up above
Watching you give nestlings the shove.


Lament for a Lost Way of Life
We used to follow the buffalo across the endless plains
Laying eggs in grassland nests and listening to the cranes.
Now nearly ubiquitous from forests to urban centers
And our young have even more bird species as mentors.

But I miss the open land with skies never ending
And the challenge of laying eggs in a nest with defending.
We have grown soft in the east with birds naive
What I need is a Henslow’s Sparrow to deceive!

I hope you have enjoyed this presentation of the poetry of M. Ater.  She is a great, if largely unrecognized talent.  Here’s hoping that this exposure will lead to more attention being paid to her and other bird poets.

*Yes, of course, cloaca is actually pronounced with three syllables but just this once pronounce it so it rhymes with mocha.  Pronunciation of human words is difficult for cowbirds to grasp.

If you liked this post and would like to browse the entire archive of poetry posts on 10,000 Birds please check out our Bird Poems page.


Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.