Love, a Universal Problem
Let’s face it, most of us have had our hearts broken at some point. When that happens, it’s completely normal to swear to ourselves that we will never go through that pain again. And yet, we inevitably find ourselves attracted to another person, head-over-heels in love. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we were just animals and didn’t have all the complexity of relationships and love? Well . . . avian courtship isn’t necessarily easy, either.
A Lot Goes Into Finding “Love”
As humans we often select a mate by their physical appearance (muscle mass, athletic abilities, smoldering good looks, etc.) and birds aren’t that different. But appearance isn’t everything. The main ways birds attract a mate include:
- Preening (the act of cleaning and straightening feathers using the beak) – when done between birds, preening is considered an intimate bonding experience.
- Feeding – gifts of food show that a bird can be a good provider to partner and young.
- Building – nests are often a really big deal for birds. While most are practical and functional, many are elaborate, intricate, and utterly amazing. Males often have to have a nest constructed before a female will even approach him. Some birds spend weeks to years constructing their masterpieces!!!
- Singing – while a “call” tends to have a short and less rhythmic sound used to communicate a nearby threat or an individual’s location, a “song” is a relatively structured vocalization produced while attracting a mate or defending a territory. Some bird songs are simple while others can be very elaborate.
- Visual AWESOMENESS – have you noticed that in many birds the males are much more brightly colored than females? This is because the females typically get to choose their mate and males have evolved some incredible colors and feathers to show off to would-be partners.
But the Most Impressive Way to Attract a Mate . . . Dancing!
Dancing can be a bonding activity between males and females and can vary tremendously. Bald Eagles perform a sort of “sky dance” where they lock talons in mid air and spiral toward the ground, releasing their grip (hopefully) before crashing into the earth. You can see a grainy, but impressive video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAwcoFoAk_k
Western Grebes echo one another in a gentle ballet before racing across the top of the water, side by side. To see a video of this dance, click this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbRrxw-H6xA
In what seems comical to many humans, albatross perform an elaborate courtship involving beak “fencing” and vocalizations. See an example here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5013pGsITw
And in what is arguably the greatest mating dance in the world, the Red Capped Manakin impresses the ladies with killer Michael Jackson-esque moves. You must watch it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZObbXS0k4o
Why Go Through All That Trouble?
Birds are driven by instinct to reproduce. Having offspring means their genes will continue on after that individual bird has died. Birds pick and choose which mate has the best genes. This choice should then secure the best chance of survival for their offspring.
The process of courtship is a chance for one bird (usually the male) to display their best traits and secure a mate for that moment or forever. It can be incredibly elaborate, time-consuming, and, occasionally, a complete waste of time and energy.
So, unless you enjoy hours of primping and exercise, are a fabulous cook, can build a home with your bare hands, or have amazing vocal skills and dancefloor moves, maybe finding love “the animal way” isn’t actually easier after all.