The Rain Bird

I once lived in a house surrounded on three sides by beautiful Australian bush; silvery eucalyptus trees, wattle with fluffy yellow flower balls, wild redgums, stringy barks and she-oaks. And birds; rainforest varieties mostly, but the ubiquitous magpies and currawongs. Indian mynas, whipbirds and bellbirds too.

One morning, I was drawn outside by an unusual bird call. It sounded like a baby magpie, but something wasn’t quite right. The juvenile maggie is almost as big as the parents, and fully dependent for food until quite grown. As I scoured the treetops for signs of a nest, I could hear the familiar bossy calls of the young bird out there somewhere. But something seemed off. The call was louder than was typical, and way more insistent. Rather than issuing its demands in a phrase, with long pauses, this bird was relentless. Squwark, squwark, squwark it went, on and on and on. It sounded like it was close, and I should’ve been able to see the familiar grey and white head and shoulders peeking above a messy bundle of sticks in a nearby tree. I did find a nest, but all I could see inside it was a huge white bird I didn’t recognise; certainly not the baby I was looking for.

Then, to my surprise, two adult magpies rushed down in a swoop to the nest. I realised the strange creature sitting in the magpie nest was actually issuing the baby magpie sound from it’s big, grey beak. The parents were almost falling over themselves to cram great beakfuls of whatever magpies eat into the throat of this huge thing as fast as they could. The big, greedy, white, non-magpie gulped down the offerings, and immediately started up its squwarking again. And off the two harried parents went, presumably to find more of whatever it is magpies eat to feed the large creature sitting in their next, pretending to be their offspring.

I was horrified. And fascinated. What the hell was going on here? Where was the real baby magpie? What was that big white bird in the nest doing, pretending to be their baby? Was this a thing? Or was I watching some kind of weird evolutionary abomination occurring in my back yard?

I was shaken. And angry. I felt for those magpie parents, clearly tricked into thinking they were obliged to run themselves ragged for this big, fat non-magpie intruder.

I went and did some research, and this is what I found.

Channel-billed cuckoos – or Rain Birds – are what’s know as parasitic birds. Parent cuckoos will actively seek the occupied nests of magpies or currawongs, ejecting any eggs they find there, and laying their own in their stead.

They then fly off and abandon the cuckoo eggs to the unwitting nest owners, who care for them and hatch them as if they were their own. The two currawongs are thusly fooled into believing the Rain Bird is it’s baby. They are instinctively obliged to raise the chick, feeding it and protecting it, slaves to its demands, never ever suspecting their charge, which eventually grows to twice the size of the “parents”, is an imposter.

And all the time it pretends to be a vulnerable youngster, evoking the protective, nurturing instinct deep in the parent, sounding for all the world like a hapless baby. By supplanting the original and rightful occupant of the family nest by force and imposing itself and its constant needs onto it’s unknowing hosts, the Rain Bird gets its needs met, grows and prospers. Without conscience. Without qualms. Until the cycle begins again.

Do you know a Rain Bird?

I suspect we all may know one. In fact, perhaps you think you are one?

Rain birds are people who are broken just like everyone, but are stronger, more capable and more awesome than they choose to believe, and project themselves to be. They know they’re flawed and imperfect, as we all are, but they tell anyone who will listen they’re more helpless and bereft than anyone else, projecting an especially broken brokenness. They are the most poor, hopeless and badly done by of everyone in their world, they insist. But they are not merely complaining. Their brokenness is a device for attracting favour and support; emotional, certainly, and any other kind you might happen to have on offer as well.

Thing is, Rain Birds are clever and intelligent. They are smart, funny and good at what they love to do. But their gifts are inverted. They use their considerable abilities not to move themselves ahead in the world, but to posture themselves as weak and needy, so others will give them out of pity or compassion what they could easily attain for themselves.

We all have stuff to deal with, and most of us feel less than or too much from time to time. Sharing our stories and our feelings is generally a healthy thing to do. But what makes a Rain Bird’s story-telling unique is their seeking to gain advantage over others via their stories. For them, their brokenness is evidence they deserve to be given concession or advantage. The advantage Rain Birds seek could be success or promotion to a much-wanted position. It could be inclusion in a group or access to a product or service. It could be personal or professional support, or it could simply be care and nurture. Chronic Rain Birds know no other way to get what they want than to plead their sad, hopeless plight, hoping to attract benefit. They will often move from “nest” to “nest” looking to install themselves under the brooding care of a rescuer, teacher or carer who will “understand” them. They easily lose interest in people or groups who do not affirm and support their belief no one is worse off than they are. Their behaviour will often cause interpersonal and group dynamics to become uneven, and just like the unwitting foster parents of the real Rain Bird, they may burn – or burn out – their rescuer, by continually and relentlessly demanding more than they contribute.

It’s safer for the Rain Bird to ask for concession and charity, because if they lose it, they’ve lost nothing of true worth or value, to them anyway. What they gained cost them nothing, so they’ve lost nothing if it doesn’t work, or ceases to be provided. They know there’s plenty more nests where this one came from.

There are many reasons people become Rain Birds. Rain Birds often come from families where the only way to have needs met, or attract attention or affection was to be hurt, injured or sick.  They may be unrealised or oppressed creatives, or tightly budded spiritually or emotionally for a long time. Rain Birds are frequently unhealed victims of abuse. Influences such as addiction can also cloud a Rain Birds insights into just how capable and resources they are. If someone you’ve met, live or work is evoking a sense of pity or compassion in your heart, but with it seems deeply entrenched in self-deprecation, co-dependency or a victim mentality, you can probably assume a Rain Bird is circling in your neighbourhood..

Not giving in to a Rain Bird’s manipulations isn’t about not hearing their story, or  withholding compassion, patience or kindness. There is some truth in all the Rain Bird’s cries for help. But whilst they play from this particular section of the orchestra, they ignore and withhold an equally significant truth. They are a survivor, and they know how to take care of themselves. They often have more resources than you do. If you weren’t around to rescue them, they would be perfectly fine.

The moment you begin to instate boundaries with a Rain Bird, that’ll be the end of that. When you say “that’s enough”, you’re dropped.  And by the time you realise you didn’t help, fix them or make their lives better despite everything you did or offered to do, they’ll have moved on to the next person or place, and because you genuinely believed it was a real relationship, it’ll break your heart.

The way to love a Rain Bird is with you in your nest, and they in theirs. Be their friend, but empower them to live from their own capacity, resources, strengths and wisdom. Support them to take responsibility for their actions, and the impacts they have on you and others. When situations and opportunities arise, remind them about their intrinsic intelligence, courage and insights. Do not be tempted to rescue them, or be positioned into becoming a foster parent or unwitting carer.

The Rain Bird needs constant reinforcement from you their feelings and beliefs of helplessness and hopelessness aren’t special or unique – we all feel too much and not enough at times.  Set firm and clear boundaries between what they say they need, and everything you love and value, because they will have no qualms about eliminating threats from the “nest” in vying for your attention. Don’t allow solving their their problems – real, or imagined – to become a source of self-confidence or ego-building for you. Love a Rain Bird best by speaking consistently to their capacity, reminding them – and yourself – about their track record of survival so far without you.
(c) Jo Hilder 2015

You've heard my thoughts, now throw me yours...