The Moral of the Kuckuck Bird

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Deep in the forest of Germany lives a bird whose call is the same as its name — "Kuck-kuck." Quite shy and not easily observed, this bird migrates every spring from Eastern Africa to the Central European forests to breed its young. During April the male bird’s mating call can be heard in the woods as he attempts to attract a mate. Unlike the other birds, this peculiar bird, which looks like a bird of prey, is a breeding parasite. This bird does not know how to build a nest and raise its chicks. The female finds the nest of a singing bird species and lays one of her eggs while eating one of the eggs already laid by the other bird. In the course of one year she will lay close to twenty eggs in this manner. The Kuckuck eggs are larger than the host bird’s eggs and easily detectable to the naked eye. The host bird is caring for the alien egg along with her own.

Often the intruder is the first to hatch and will immediately throw the eggs of the host family over the nest, or it will throw the smaller chicks out the nest if the other eggs have hatched. In most cases, the host parents do not detect the deception and continue feeding this much larger chick as their own offspring. Due to its size the Kuckuck chick requires a lot of food so, since all the natural offspring were eliminated, the parents give all the food to their little imposter. Once grown and out of the nest, the Kuckuck continues to be fed by the parents until July or August when he heads back to his winter quarters in Eastern Africa by his lonesome self.

The other birds in the forest are not at all fazed by this bird’s immoral actions. They continue to breed, feed, and fly and sing until one year the Kuckuck may end up in their nest. There is neither protest nor a revolution taking place in the forest to oust this villainous bird. The birds don’t know any different, and continue to live by their instinctive ways as they always have. To the uninformed, it may even appear that this bird is being fed by its real parents — until when grown it looks quite different from the birds that parented it. Nothing unusual seems to be happening to a casual observer. The other birds do not report to the Mama bird that she’s feeding a giant Kuckuck. None of the birds have a moral inclination to seek justice. Since there is no such moral proclivity, it eliminates the need for justice or the desire to take up arms and fight it out in battle. They accept their fate and the cycle continues.

When I first learned about the Kuckuck bird in elementary school I was outraged. Even as you read this, several thoughts may have crossed your mind. This bird violates several laws that would not be tolerated in our human society. Our inner moral code immediately wants to judge the behavior of this bird by our human standards. There is encroachment of property, deception, theft, and murder all taking place within the context of this bird’s breeding habits.

But our moral code cannot be applied in the animal kingdom. If it could, there would be quite an uproar and the collapse of their kingdom. Nature has birds designed differently. They live by instinct, and so do not feel guilt or see injustice when the moral laws are broken as we experience them in our world. Since not a single bird has a moral inclination to seek justice, there is no objection by anyone. Their balance is kept in a biological context.

In our human world, we operate on morals and intelligence in order to function as a civil society and not by biological balance. Without it, there would be continued chaos until man annihilated himself. The basic moral laws we know are captured in the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament. These morals are not just written in stone but also in the hearts of every human being. We are born with the innate sense of knowing right from wrong. The way we experience that we have broken a moral law is by feeling guilt and shame. If we accept our transgression as caused by our own doing, we feel remorse and seek atonement from our transgression from the person we offended by asking for forgiveness, accepting responsibility for the consequences and pay reparation, if needed.

I use my Christian principals to deal with the past offenses that may still linger as a result of my offense. The first three commandments pretty much set the stage for an inner relationship with our Creator that will lead to following the other seven. A human being cannot live with guilt and shame and be productive if a law was violated. There has to be a tender approach to our inner life that acknowledges our tendencies for imperfection. That inner relationships can change the dynamics in which we pursue following a moral law. The motive for obedience is one of love and not demand. Following that path can bring health, prosperity and long life to an individual who chooses to follow it of their own free will. We recognize by application that by consistently following a moral law we live in a more real existence that not only benefits our lives but others’ as well. The response to following a moral law is voluntary.

If another transgresses against us by breaking a law, a judgment is made based upon their offending actions. The offender falls under the law and so gets punished according to the crime he has committed. This ensures that a free society can continue. However, the offender cannot be coerced into feeling guilt or remorse over his crime. There is nothing someone else can do to bring the person who breaks a moral law into feeling guilt or shame, or seeing that his offense caused harm to others. Often the offender can twist and spin the evidence in such a way that he truly believes himself to be innocent. His punishment, or removal from his community, cannot force him into seeing his own transgressions. Not until his own defenses fall apart can he see that he was deceived all along. A functional society can only punish or imprison the criminal who violates the law. His moral rehabilitation now stands between him and his God alone, and that falls outside the capabilities of what human courts can mandate. Following a moral code still greatly relies on the voluntary submission by the offender. Only then can his own life take off in a productive manner.

Society has made great strides in changing itself over the past thousands of years. The adoption of a moral law has stopped the biological balance that applies to animals. We stopped robbing and murdering one another and actually built communities that saw longer periods of peace. We began to trade with one another and began to invent things that made our lives easier. Being able to own a plot of land stopped our nomadic habits, and we invested into building relationships with neighbors by sharing one another’s goods and ideas through trade. Yet somehow we seem to have reverted back to barbaric behavior during several epochs in history. And currently our modern society again seems to be sliding back into ways that resemble that of our ancestors.

So why are our current societies on such a decline of moral observations? Why is there such a battle between the immoral and moral values of people? Do we view morals differently based on political association? Can morals just completely disappear from our human memory and no longer be applied in our daily lives? What causes the decline from transforming our animal nature to our true human nature?

This kind of takes me back to our Kuckuck bird. He lives in an environment that is void of morals. It is a breeding ground for the immoral to become strong, eliminating anyone standing in their way. But does this kind of behavior of the Kuckuck bird not resemble in some way the decline of the civilization in which we currently live? We seem to have reverted back to a biological existence where the biggest and strongest and most deceitful outnumbers those who live by a moral code. Society’s standards seem to have adapted to a different kind of moral. All efforts by the ones who wish to be guided by a moral compass are often viewed as weak and outdated in their worldviews.

Unlike our birds in the forests who cannot even accuse each other of immoral behaviors, since they do not possess a conscious mind, a man can. He can see when immoral deeds are done. Using the example of the Kuckuck bird, we can quickly discern that he is real monster if judged by human standards. There is an emotional and a spiritual conviction that gets activated when a moral law is being violated. Since that is the case, why is it so difficult to see that our own neck of the woods is slowly turning into an animal kingdom void of moral laws?

If the singing bird had a sense of awareness of himself, he would most likely recognize that the egg in his nest is not his own. He could quickly act upon that and remove the intruder’s egg from his nest. Other birds in the area could even make him aware that an intruder was observed in his nest, affirming that an offense had been committed. The requirement here is that each bird must be able to observe their own morals in order to recognize a deception, theft or murder. He must adhere to morals so he can be aware of transgressions by himself or others. This consistency protects life and assures the continuance of it. It is his right to defend it. It also gives a moral observer a natural defense in calling a bluff or a hoax when he sees one. Awareness is the best defense. Sleepers, on the other hand, have none. They not only can deceive themselves but others.

When I told the breeding habit of the Kuckuck bird to my girls, their response was similar to what I had as a child. They were outraged. I asked them what it is that they find offensive. Immediately my younger daughter responded that the Kuckuck bird should learn how to build his own nest and raise his own chicks and not steal the nest of another and murder their chicks. My older daughter recognized abandonment of the young. She said that the Kuckuck bird abandons his children and leaves the responsibility of raising them to another bird. She even brought up what she has heard on the evening news, the fact that many mothers or fathers abandon their children in real life— sometimes even murdering them. Again, my children applied their human moral code to the behavior of these birds and saw the injustice being done. They saw in our feathered friends examples of what happens every day in our world.

It seems that the Kuckuck bird’s actions are rewarded by being allowed to continue his mischievous and murderous ways in his natural environment. Nothing happens in the world of the birds that punishes the wrong behavior. In his world it means survival and since his world is not governed by morals, his behavior is permissible. If immoral behavior in our human world is allowed, or on the rise, then it also must mean that it is being rewarded rather than punished. Since our world is governed by morals, immorality is not permissible and therefore to allow it creates a lie, since our society was created and founded on moral principles.

Somewhere along the line, an authority that is intended to see that these morals are observed is not doing its duty to ensure that morality prevails so that society continues to function freely in its due course. Who is this authority? Is it the church or is it the government? Children learn behaviors from their parents. Are parents no longer acting on these morals and consequently teaching our children the reverse of right and wrong? Our entire civilization seems to move backwards going against our inner moral code. It can be quite confusing indeed, and creates a false reality, since it does not reflect the image and code that was given to us since birth. The picture we view on the outside becomes distorted and often what is seen no longer makes sense to the ones who follow morals.

Who is responsible for not enforcing that the Ten Commandments are observed? Unlike in the animal kingdom, in the world of people we have our own consciences to uphold these laws. Courts and governments are only there to make sure that these are honored, respected and, when transgressed, transgressors are punished accordingly. Otherwise there would be disorder among every community and country. Some countries do not even follow these laws as evidenced by their economic hardship, slavery mentality, and constant wars and feuds. That environment is a breeding ground for "monsters" to rule the masses. These countries are void of moral conduct, because "monsters" are tolerated by the people at large and encouraged by their leadership. Any attempt to follow the eternal moral code is oppressed and persecuted through force.

Sometimes various philosophies in economics and politics create the same sort of breeding ground for disaster. The idea of the philosophy often involves creating its own separate sets of laws that deviate from the true moral law. Its ideas may be to intervene with the bird family by assisting the Kuckuck bird in building a nest for him, checking every nest in the forest for his eggs so they can be collected, and placed in this artificially created nest. Since the bird has never been taught to take care of its young, the new set of laws will provide a fake breeder to hatch the eggs of the chicks. Additionally, because the Kuckuck never learned to feed its young, a dispenser is placed on the nest to provide 24-hour feeding. What this creates is bureaucracy, because each step requires money and time and documentation from others to provide this service for a kooky bird. It’s an artificial environment that rewards incompetence rather than right behavior that is grounded in morals. It also creates hostility in those birds that work hard and follow their inner morals but see the immoral bird being rewarded for doing nothing. The weak will discard living by those moral standards, because the reward is obviously with those who break the law rather than obey it.

From an uninformed point of view the singing bird’s family is saved from harm while the offender is being dealt with in a "parental" way until he learns how to be responsible. The question is: how is he to learn? Bureaucracy and an equal share of the whole will not ensure that the bird starts becoming aware of his evil ways. He can only wake up if his wings are clipped by removing his freedom to behave the way he does and not by performing this obligation for him. Only then can he figure out that he has other options and choices in how to live and raise a family. He may even discover his moral compass. It becomes hypocritical, however, if the clipping is done by an immoral authority. One accused of immorality who is to be tried or punished by a judge, who is himself immoral and who operates in a corrupt system, cannot make a moral judgment to correct an offense. No justice is being served. The result is lawlessness.

The moral of my Kuckuck bird story contains an important observation. Only in an environment where immoral actions are encouraged by the ones who guard over the laws will immorality breed among the people. A government or organization which does not hold its own actions to the same moral standards that it places on its own people will be the cause of the moral decline of society. But a government which serves under the law and upholds it will also see a rise in voluntary behavior that is in accordance with those ancient moral codes.

All the birds can live in the forest, sharing the same space without having to take over someone else’s property, or deceiving others and stealing and murdering the other species. They all would have morals to live by if they applied our human moral code. Hopefully humanity will not stand for living by the instinctive codes of the animal world much longer, and we’ll revert back to the standards which were set long ago and written on our hearts.

Sabine Barnhart [send her mail] moved to the US in 1980 and lives in Fort Worth, TX with her three children. For the past 15 years she has been working for an international service company.

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