It is only natural to conjure up romantic ideas about your bird families. If you have had the good fortune to watch a nest being built and hatchlings being tended by diligent bird parents you want to imagine that your avian family will live and love happily ever after. Where there is no indication that many offspring stay with their parents for long, there are several bird species couples that mate for life.
Sadly for us romantics, there is no emotional attachment between bird pairs. Their bonds are driven by successfully producing offspring and even the ability to care for and protect their brood. And, if the bird couple does not successfully produce eggs, they will look for other mates. This keeps their species strong.
Advantages of a long term relationship is that the couple may produce more than one brood in a season or even replace a brood that was attacked by predators or lost in a natural disaster. The attentive partner comes in handy for building the nest and feedings during the incubation period for the mate and the baby birds in the nest. This is most important for the larger birds and birds of prey where the nesting time is longer and there is the need for a large area to acquire food and keep the hatchings protected. A great birding basics article to check out about birds that mate for life is from The Spruce, Do Birds Mate For Life?.
There are a number of species that we see often on Seabrook Island that will be celebrating Valentines Day as a couple. Probably the most familiar bird couple to anyone living east of the Mississippi is the Northern Cardinal. Even though you see large flocks in the winter it is common to see a mated pair together at your feeder where occasionally the male will feed the female a seed in a gesture that looks like a kiss. You may have also experienced a Northern Cardinal attacking his reflection on your car mirror or house window. This is that male protecting his female and their territory.
The male Blue Jay is another common bird in our area that, after being chosen by the female from a pool of a half dozen or more contenders, is loyal for life. The male is integral in the nesting season and the aggressive behavior that some many complain about is merely a loud bird protecting his family.
The Black Vultures that can be seen on top of the shops at Freshfields not only catch up with their mate for nesting season, but enjoy hanging out together all year round. When the male Black Vulture spots a prospective female, he chases her in flight and periodically dives at her. Annoying to some, but apparently this works for enticing the female Black Vulture.
Our most beloved Bald Eagle is a raptor that finds a life mate. This pair also returns to the same territory and nest each year. If they successfully produce young at a nest they will go back year after year adding to that same nest. Some nests can end up weighing one or two tons. Many on Seabrook Island can attest to that having seen the huge Bald Eagles nest on Bohicket Creek.
These are but a few examples of the species that will be celebrating Valentine’s Day together. According to an article in Bird Watchers Digest Do Birds Mate for Life? and statistics from The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, 90% of all bird species are socially monogamous. There may be a little more about cheating in the Sibley’s statement, but we won’t go there since it’s Valentine’s Day. ❤
Submitted by: Joleen Ardaiolo
(Photo Credits: As noted)