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How To Pick Up Chicks

Above photo by @southshore_raptors

No one expresses themselves quite like birds when it comes to finding a mate. The males of many different species have found extravagant tactics to attract the ladies. Beautiful feathers, dazzling dances, beautiful songs, gift giving, and nest building skills are all used to win over the affections of the prized female. So in this season of love, what advice can we get from our feathered friends on how to pick up chicks? Let's get into it!

Above photo by @ghoomakadh

Many species have evolved excessive feather patterns to attract females even at the expense of their own physical fitness. The classic example of this is the peacock. Males have large tail feathers, called a train, that can grow up to 5 feet (1.5m) long. The health and vibrancy of these feathers is an indicator to females of the health of the male. It's been thought for centuries ever since Darwin came up with the idea of sexual selection that these feathers decreased their physical fitness, but new research is finding that it may not have as big of an impact as we initially thought. At least when it comes to take off. Nevertheless, many species just like the peacock, have evolved flashy feathers as their means to attract the ladies and carry on their family line.

Another way that birds attract the ladies is by singing. Bird song is another way that males can show that they are healthy and a worthy choice to carry on the genetic line. Birds, similar to humans, learn their songs by listening to the adults in their environment. Because of this, just like with humans, there can be regional variation, or dialects in bird language. And it seems like the ladies don’t like foreign birds. Females are more likely to choose birds with similar dialects to the birds from their region. How well a bird can sing the notes within their species’ song can demonstrate their physical fitness as it takes strong muscle control to make those notes. This shows both females and other males that they are able to defend their territory. It should also be noted that this kind of song singing for mates and territory defense is used more by males in temperate zones during breeding season, while in tropical environments, songs can be sung year round by both males and females. 

Above photo by @southshore_raptors

It's not always just songs that do the trick though. Some species use their songs to attract the females in, but that's when the real test begins. Before they called over the females, the males had already selected a suitable nesting cavity, started building a prototype nest, or could even have stolen a previous nest from a different bird. When the female is lured to this potential nest site, she inspects it, and if it passes inspection, she will begin to build the full nest and produce offspring with the lucky guy. House Wrens don’t pair for life, so males need to constantly attract new females, and both males and females have been known to have multiple partners.

Above photo by @southshore_raptors

Sometimes all it takes is a well thought out gift to win over a lady in the bird world. Some species like banded kingfishers gift females with food, to show their ability to successfully hunt, keeping themselves healthy and in turn making them a viable candidate to produce healthy offspring. But gift giving doesn’t need to be just food. Some penguin species give rocks to the females to solidify their bonds (I didn’t mean for that to be a pun but I also can’t go on without acknowledging that…). Penguins pair for life and sometimes these special stones are all that's needed to keep the flame going. Because it can be hard to find just the right rock in a world of countless pebbles, some penguins have turned to a life of crime, stealing stones from other males to use for their own benefit. 

Another life pair in the bird world is the red tailed hawk. Although they gift prey to the females by launching it to the female in the air, that's not enough to spice up their love lives. While flying high in the air, the male swoops and swirls around the female. And then they clasp onto each other with their talons, and rapidly descend together, spiraling down to the ground. Once reinvigorated, the pair work together to build their nest, usually high up in tall trees or cliff sides. 

Birds are a very diverse group of animals and this does not exhaust all of the many different tactics they use to attract each other. Visual displays, beautiful songs, displays of fitness, and gift giving, are so important in the bird world that it has led to behaviors and adaptations that may not at first seem like they would be advantageous for the species. But there may be some lessons from these hard working animals for us men who are trying to impress the ladies.



Bird Song

“The Genius of Birds” by Jennifer Ackerman

Gift Giving


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