Talking “Birds” and Bees, Except Just Birds at Wild Birds Unlimited!!

This morning one of my friends, Jenny McCarthey Tyrrell, was giving a talk called “The Secret Love Life of Birds.”  I was in the neighborhood and decided I would stop by.  First off, Jenny has a ton of knowledge about birds.  I met her at the Bird Banding Station on Sullivans Island, which I volunteered at this fall (a post coming soon).  She heads up that banding station as well as working with other organizations, such as the Audubon Society and The Center for Birds of Prey.  She is a great resource to have when needing  information about birds.  It was a great opportunity to get to attend and I learned a lot.

Here are some highlights of things I learned:

  • Most birds, over 90%, are what we call socially monogamous.  This is all nice and good for them to pair up and have babies, right? Well, of those nice socially monogamous birds, only about 10% are sexually monogamous.  This means that there is a lot of cheating going on.  So if bird life were like a TV show it would be more like “Desperate Housewives” than “I Love Lucy.”
  • In a clutch of eggs, there can be as much as 30-50% that are not from the male mate,  So not only are these birds unfaithful, that unfaithfulness makes its way to the offspring.  This may be a good thing, however, because it leads to more genetic diversity in the next generation and a better chance of survival of the species overall.
  • Some birds, such as the Red-winged Blackbird, are polygamous.  Meaning that one male has many female mates.  So these would be the “Sister Wives” of the bird world.
  • Birds use a lot of different mechanisms to attract a mate.  If you have ever been awaken at dawn to the cacophony of bird sounds then you know that songs are one of them.  Dawn is when the air is the clearest during the day and the songs will sound better and carry further.  Plumage plays a big role in sexual selection.  If you have ever seen a peacock at the zoo you have seen an extreme version of this.  Also, many different courtship behaviors are displayed in mate selection.  I mentioned in a previous post about the red-headed woodpecker how they play a hide and seek routine while courting.  Some birds use multiple or all three of these mechanisms.  A class of birds called the Birds of Paradise, in the family Paradisaeidae, utilize all three of these methods in a very elaborate way to attract a mate.  Watch Here to see an example of the bird of paradise dance.
  • There are many variations in what birds call home.  They vary between cavities, cupped nests, platform nests, scrape nests, burrow nests, or cemented spit cave nests.  All of these different types have advantages and disadvantages and fit the birds that utilize them.
  • Egg shape and size as well as maturation rate are all variable.  Some birds lay large eggs, like Ostriches, and some have tiny eggs, like hummingbirds.  These are obviously relative to body size (the Kiwi lays the largest egg relative to body size).  Eggs have different shapes as well.  Nest or cavity birds can be round like a sphere, while birds that nest on a cliff ledge will be teardrop shaped so they do not roll over the edge.  Birds also have a lot of variation in the rate at which they mature.  Shorebirds can walk around and are pretty developed as soon as they are hatched, whereas birds like cardinals hatch and have to be fed and protected for weeks.

This was a great experience and I learned a lot.  Jenny was great and got to pick her brain afterward.  Wild Birds Unlimited is a great place for all your bird feeder and birdwatching needs.  Their staff is very knowledgeable about birds and all the different equipment.  I picked up some birdseed while I was there as well.  If you want to visit their website Click Here

Thanks for reading!!!

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