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
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?
Photo Credit: Mark Neubrand