bird, box & spindle

How did Madame Cowbird

How Did Madame Cowbird Come To Lapse From The Path Of Virtue? 1994

Oil Painting (12"x 12")
Collection of the artist
© Julie Lapalme



The majority of the eggs belong to the lady of the house, but she has been imposed upon in her absence and made the victim of the indolence of her neighbour, Mrs. Cowbird, who has laid an egg in the Chat nest for Mrs. Chat to incubate with her own. Mrs. Cowbird, relieved of the responsibility of bringing up her offspring, is probably off indulging in some frivolity. This parasitic habit is a characteristic of the cowbird.

— ‘Book Of Birds’, Author Unknown

While on exchange at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee, Scotland, I began working with oneiric imagery in a travel journal where the nest was a recurring symbol of the home. Birds seemed like a natural progression towards a sort of personal metaphor.

I started using specific birds because of their particular characteristics. Both the Cowbird and the Cuckoo Bird, are termed ‘parasitic’ creatures, because they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. This was significant to me as an adoptee, for I could see a metaphor for my own family situation.

How Did Madame Cowbird Come To Lapse From The Path Of Virtue? The title refers to the irresponsible and frivolous character traits often attributed to the Cowbird and Cuckoo Bird in certain old ornithology books. I find that these negative human attributes describing birds in their natural habitat, acting out of instinct and a sense of survival, are disturbing because they manifest a deep-rooted disapproval of women who choose not to have children, or who relinquishes them to the care of others.


Family Tree  l  Pigeon: Cowardice  l  Cuckoo: Courage  l  Mme. Cowbird  l  L'Escalier Unique
Winding Staircase  l  House of my Own  l  L'Escalier qui monte