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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

BirdNote® Mating for Life

Air Date: Week of February 10, 2012

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A pair of American kestrels. (Photo: © Tom Grey)

Birds like to be in pairs, at least for the mating season. Michael Stein reports on why many feathered couples don’t stick around much longer than that.


A pair of house sparrows. (Photo: Sid Mosdell)



GELLERMAN: Birds of a feather may flock together, but most bird pairs aren’t in it for the long term. BirdNote®’s Michael Stein reports that when it comes to love, birds are flighty.

Bald eagles at nest. (Photo: © Tom Grey)


STEIN: Mating for life may be the human ideal, but most bird species in North America mate for a single breeding season. Some may team up with the same mate the following year just because both stay in, or return to, the same territory. But such togetherness is relatively rare.

Because most birds of the north-temperate zone migrate, remaining in touch with a mate throughout the autumn and winter is difficult. For instance, fewer than one-fifth of song sparrow pairs are reunited.


STEIN: For long-term fidelity, look among the larger birds: large resident birds such as hawks, eagles, and ravens -


STEIN: have wide territories, meaning few contacts with the opposite sex. Maintaining a relationship through the winter may assure breeding in the next season. You'll often see such birds in pairs throughout the year.


STEIN: Most seabirds meet and breed in colonies. But marbled murrelets, little relatives of puffins, breed inland in old-growth forests. They have no chance to meet each other in a colony. So when a male and a female get together, they stay together.


STEIN: In the animal realm, birds still provide the best examples of seasonal mate fidelity. Most birds form devoted pairs for at least each breeding season, not something that can be said for most mammals. For BirdNote®, I’m Michael Stein.

GELLERMAN: To see some photos of loving birds make a bee line to our website - LOE dot ORG.



BirdNote® Mating for Life was written by Dennis Paulson

Calls of the birds provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Common Raven recorded by R.S. Little, Song Sparrow by G.A.Keller, Marbled Murrelet by K.S. Nelson and ambient created from R.S. Little.


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