Here’s a thought for Valentine’s Day. Why not take a romantic dander along
the Lagan towpath and work up an appetite for that Marks & Spencer £20
special 3-course lurrrve feast. Or that box of Belgian truffles.
It’s still early in the season for the birds to start their
courtship rituals, so most of the billing and cooing you encounter may be among
the humans. But love is
still very much in the air with the gently flowing river, the snowdrops and the
birdsong creating such an enchanting backdrop. Who needs candles?
And as thoughts turn to love (or wildlife), you may be
wondering what the birds do to attract their mates, in the absence of rom coms,
chocolates and red roses.
DINNER FOR TWO BLUETITS
Fortunately, the RSPB are experts on this subject. There’s a
lot more to wooing and winning than fancy plumage. The birds put in plenty of hard work, as you’ll see in the
article below. It’s full of
good stuff about the elaborate, surprising and touching displays of love from
exotic as well as our local species.
So as the spring and summer bird mating and breeding season
unrolls and you return to the Park, keep an eye out for some of the loving
behaviour described below. When it
comes to hearts and flowers, we have a thing or two to learn from birds. Love is something to work at; but then
it is a matter of survival!
Love is in the air
Romance may be dead in
some quarters, but love is still in the air – literally.
Valentine’s Day was
traditionally thought to be when many birds start to pair up. And the RSPB says that you could do a
worse than look to the skies for inspiration on how to treat your own special
someone this weekend.
Many wild birds are known
for their chivalrous and monogamous ways, and we could apply a thing or two to
our own dining and dining techniques.
Like us, many birds know
that the way to a loved one’s heart is through the stomach. Some birds of prey pass food to their
mates in the air as a way to strengthen their pair bond. Forget champagne and
caviar though – this is more likely to be insects, small mammals or birds!
Raptors like golden
eagles, hen harriers and marsh harriers are particularly known for this
courting technique, while great crested grebes exchange gifts in the water.
HEN HARRIERS DO THE FEEDING DANCE
Songbirds like robins
also do courtship feeding at the nest with the male taking the female food as
she incubates her eggs. It is part
of the initial pairing up and the female will be kept in good condition to
raise her young if she’s well fed on the nest. Bullfinches, terns and gulls also use this technique. Some female birds might even choose
another mate if the male doesn’t bring them enough food!
An estimated 90% of all
bird species are monogamous and form a faithful bond for the breeding
season. Many may separate
for the rest of the year and reform their pair bond the following season. This is the habit of many seabirds like
shearwaters, waders such as dunlins and also swallows. Some species could
remain bonded for most of the year, such as jackdaws and sparrowhawks.
Others will even migrate
together, flying thousands of miles side by side across the Arctic, such as
Bewick’s swans and barnacle geese.
Many birds pair up for
life and although their commitment can sometimes be to the detriment of their
whole species, they wouldn’t consider looking elsewhere.
18 of the 22 species of
albatross face extinction as thousands die every year in fisheries, leading to
the RSPB ‘s Save the Albatross Campaign.
Some species of albatross mate for life and only raise one chick every
two years, so their loyalty is also contributing to this decline.
MUTE SWANS ARE PARTNERS FOR LIFE
Other monogamous birds
include birds of prey like golden and white tailed eagles. Mute swans, commonly seen in parks and
on communal ponds are also among the most faithful.
There’s no resting on
your laurels and hoping the right person will find you in the bird world. Many birds will actively defend their
territory in the hope of attracting a mate, and the much-loved robin is a
classic example of this. Robins will often chase anything that comes into their
territory that suggests they may go on to breed in the area in spring and
summer. Blackbirds, kingfishers,
buzzards and magpies are all known for fighting for their territory too.
It doesn’t pay to be shy
when you’re looking for romance.
Some birds have extraordinary courtship ‘displays’ that they use to
attract a mate, which involve beautiful colours and dancing displays that would
rival any moves we do on a Saturday night.
Some will abruptly spread
their wings, thrust out their chest, do an immense yawn to show bright colours
inside their beaks, and even exhibit decorative feet in the case of the
tropical blue-footed boobie. For
many birds, these displays are known as a ‘lek’.
Black grouse strut around
with their backsides in the air, bobbing their striking white tail and making a
distinctive bubbling call. Other
birds who like to show off to potential suitors include capercaillies, ruffs
and great bustards.
BLACK GROUSE STRUT THEIR STUFF
Richard James, RSPB
Wildlife Advisor, says: ‘Many birds really know how to put the effort into
attracting a mate. From elaborate
displays to passing food, they pull out all the stops and it’s a fascinating
thing to observe, especially close to Valentine’s Day.
‘Already in our gardens
some birds will be demonstrating courtship routines too – look out for the
territorial robin who will fight tooth and nail for his mate! Other species like blackbirds tend to
get a bit scrappy too when standing up for themselves. All’s fair in love and war!’
BLOGGER'S NOTE: Reading this I realised we have a lot more in common with
birds than I ever realised – especially the elaborate feet!!
Photos from the RSPB