In the old days, all birds were as equals; they built their nests and laid their eggs and cared for their young. For some this was easy, but for the cowbirds who followed the vast herds of buffalo across the plains, it was a hard and heartbreaking task. Many nests were abandoned by parents who had no choice but to move on.

One day, the trickster god Man approached the cowbird matriarchs and offered them a bargain. He would allow them to lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, as honored and favored guests, and therefore allow the matriarchs and their consorts to follow the herds where they would.

In exchange, the matriarchs asked what the trickster god Man wanted. For though it was an offer most tempting, they were wary of Man and his ways, and rightly so. Man said that he wanted just two things, and when pressed to name them out, he pointed at a buffalo and a tree. Thinking that he meant that single buffalo, a mere calf, and that single tree, a sapling oak, the cowbirds agreed.

But it was soon evident that Man had tricked them. Instead of taking a single buffalo, he took the entire herd, wiping them from existence. Instead of a single tree, he took the forest, clear-cutting it. And while the cowbirds had, as promised, gained the ability to lay in the nests of others, they were far from the welcomed and honored guests Man had promised. All birds wise enough to eject the eggs did so, and all birds attacked the matriarchs when they approached with egg.

The matriarchs in vain tried to return to their old ways, but they had forgotten the craft of nest building. And so it was that they made their vow: they would follow Man’s new buffalo instead of their own, move east through the new plains Man had created, and lay their eggs in others’ nests with subtlety and guile. They would be as warriors against a world that hated them because of Man’s trickery, and they would ever seek to take from Man what they were owed.

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