Till Death Do Us Part: Birds that Mate for Life
Love is in the air. This Valentine’s Day, take inspiration from some of the great bird species that mate for life. Here are just a few examples of the many winged wonders that fall into this category.
Average clutch size: 1-3 eggs
Cool! Measuring six feet across and four feet tall (or even larger!), bald-eagle nests are some of the largest of any avian species.
These birds, the symbol of the United States, mate for life unless one of the two dies. Their spectacular courtship rituals are a sight to see, with the birds locking talons, then flipping, spinning, and twirling through the air in a maneuver called a Cartwheel Display. They break apart seemingly at the last moment, just before hitting the ground. For more: Audubon and Cornell’s All About Birds
Average clutch size: 1 egg
Cool! Nearly three-quarters of the world’s population of this species nests on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge.
Laysan albatrosses, which don’t breed until they’re eight or nine years old, are monogamous, annually solidifying their bond through ritual dancing. “If they do lose their mate, they will go through a year or two of a mourning period,” says John Klavitter, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist at Midway Atoll. “After that, they will do a courtship dance to try to find another mate.” For more: Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Birds of Midway Atoll
Average clutch size: 5-7 eggs
Cool! During mating, the black knob at the base of a male’s bill swells up on these extremely territorial birds originally introduced from Europe.
Mute swan pairs reportedly stay together for life. However, divorce does occur in less than 3% of mates that breed successfully and 9% that don’t. They re-mate when a partner dies; how quickly this happens depends on the survivor’s gender. Females find a new male within as few as three weeks. Males, however, tend to wait until the following fall or winter—allowing time to defend their nests and finish raising their cygnets. For more: Cornell’s All About Birds
Average clutch size: 2-4 eggs
Cool! These birds can live to be 75 years old in captivity or, on average, 33 years old in the wild.
Typically these rainbow-colored birds spend their lives together. They even preen each other and their young, picking bugs from their feathers. Scarlet macaw parents, which reach sexual maturity sometime between age three and four, won’t raise new chicks until their previous ones have fledged and are independent. For more: Rainforest Alliance and University of Michigan Museum of Zoology
Average clutch size: 2 eggs
Cool! Not surprisingly (when you get a look at the legs), this crane species is the tallest bird in North America.