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Are Songbirds Faithful To Their Mates, Or Do They Fool Around?

Are Songbirds Faithful To Their Mates, Or Do They Fool Around?

It’s Valentine’s Day, when humans are supposed to proclaim their love for their mate through chocolates, hearts, and fine dining. But what about our feathered friends?

It seems that they may not be as faithful to their mates as we’ve been led to think.

“Sexual Fidelity Is Hard To Find” Amongst Birds

From WGBH.org:

The development of DNA identification has given scientists potent new tools for discovering the genetic relationships between animal parents and their offspring. In recent years this has led to some eye-opening revelations about monogamy and infidelity in the animal world — particularly in birds, which have traditionally been thought to form monogamous pairs for child-rearing.

Because avian offspring require a lot of parental care — incubating the eggs and feeding the nestlings — it seemed to both parents’ advantage to be hardworking, faithful partners. Scientists using DNA “fingerprinting” have discovered instead that a surprising number of eggs in birds’ nests contain another male’s genes.

Behind the appearance of monogamy, “sexual fidelity is hard to find,” as science author Virginia Morell put it. 

”Social” monogamy — staying together for the sake of the kids — is one thing. But among birds, scientists are finding, females are sneaking off with other males whose offspring are then raised by the female and her unknowing partner.

Parent Birds Raising At Least Two Stepchildren

In other words, there is way more fooling around going on in the open spaces of this country among birds than anyone could imagine. DNA studies of songbirds have shown that among any four baby birds in a single nest, it is typical that only an average of two are the creation of the parent birds that are raising them.

The other two nestling have either a different father or mother, or both. It is a common practice among songbirds to copulate with birds other than their mates, thus producing broods of nestlings with mixed parentage.

Wait, this sounds awfully similar to what’s going on with humans these days.

Divorce Common Among Birds

And just like with humans, divorce is also common among birds, particularly in birds of prey. If a mated pair of hawks, for example, is not successful in producing a brood of youngsters, an avian divorce often arises and one or the other will seek another mate.

Yet, there are some birds that are faithful to their mates. Geese, swans and some seabirds are uncommonly faithful, often for life. Indeed, true love does seem to exist in the bird world, though it is hard to find.

How does this match up to the human world?

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Photo Credit: Mark Neubrand

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67 comments

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8:46AM PDT on Mar 14, 2012

I am surprised!! I did think they mated for life. Judy, you burst my bubble!!

12:56PM PST on Feb 19, 2012

interesting article, thanks for sharing :)

3:32PM PST on Feb 15, 2012

i had no idea! interesting!

1:06PM PST on Feb 15, 2012

Interesting

9:02AM PST on Feb 15, 2012

Thank you

5:22AM PST on Feb 15, 2012

yes. exactly. why do people do this to much? we are not as equal as you think we are. Humans are supposed to have that survival trait, and a man might not know his "mate"'s child might not be his, but he could still raise it. as mentioned there are some animals who could do this. maybe even humans. you get impregnated BY the best, if they are lowsy fathers, you have another male to help raise offspring.

Penguins can smell if they are related or not. So do other animals, we cannot recognize this(I think) when pregnant she knows the child is hers. only today they have hospital mixups and babies go home with the wrong people.

"we can learn so much from animals, so many are better than us"

then what about the birds that dump their eggs in other nests? compared to human ethics that is terrible. "OH but that is how they survive, nature is wonderful"

birds are not people. what do they mean by "divorce"? who gets what when the birds divorce? "wife bird gets the highest branch in that maple tree by the big rock near the pond"?

divorce and marriage are legal unions.

birds do not "mate for life and commit suicide when their mate dies",some birds's siblings kill eachother while in nests, to ensure that the best survive.

and I spoke to someone who has a swan on their propery with half a wing. a mute swan rescue. he had a mate for one season. She left and never came back.
what kind of turd muffin bird is that? has handicaped biased to. what a jerk. maybe someone at

3:50AM PST on Feb 15, 2012

Thanks for the article.

11:22PM PST on Feb 14, 2012

Ha ha. However, we are looking at this from a human point of view as opposed to nature's.

9:52PM PST on Feb 14, 2012

Oh well, at least geese are still faithful.

8:51PM PST on Feb 14, 2012

Interesting story, Thanks for sharing don't think I had ever thought about it before.

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