With Valentine’s Day just a few days away, it seems fitting to discuss love this week. Here are a few fun facts about some of Maine’s lovebirds:
“Birds Mate for Life”
Let’s start by debunking a big misconception: “Birds mate for life.” The simple answer is no, they do not. Polygamy, in the forms of polyandry and polygyny, is very common amongst birds, especially song birds. There are some species that form monogamous pair bonds but the contrast with ‘mating for life’ is that they will only be monogamous as long as it is mutually beneficial.
A good example is Mute Swans: they form monogamous pairs but will seek new mates if their partner dies, becomes injured or is otherwise unable to reproduce. From a bird’s perspective, the ultimate goal is to produce as many young as possible each year, for every number of years possible, and they will find a mate, or mates, that will be most beneficial for them.
Even though it is February, there is love in the air for a number of species. Mate selection has already begun for many of our Maine-breeding owls. You may have noticed an increase in the nighttime activity (in the form of vocalizations) in Barred and Great Horned Owls. These species typically sit on eggs in Maine by March. Some owls further south are already feeding chicks: check out this live feed of a Great Horned Owl pair in Savanna, Georgia (their first chick hatched on February 3).
Another species breeding right now is Red Crossbills.They can be found nesting almost any time of the year, whenever food is abundant. Recently, a small group of Red Crossbills has been seen in Waterboro (York County).
Perhaps one of the best (or best known) love stories in the avian world is that of Central Park’s Pale Male. If you haven’t heard it before, I highly recommend reading “Red-Tails in Love” or watching the Nature documentary “Pale Male” this weekend.
A Maine native, Doug grew up in Hollis and graduated from the University of Maine in 2011. Throughout college Doug worked at Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center and was hired as Maine Audubon’s staff naturalist in the summer of 2013, a long time “dream job.” In his free time, Doug volunteers as one of Maine’s eBird reviewers, is the owner and moderator of the ‘Maine-birds’ listserv and serves as York County Audubon board member and Secretary of the Maine Bird Records Committee.