By CHARLOTTE WOLTER | Special to the Palisadian-Post
As we get close to Valentine’s Day in a year when hugs and kisses may be out of the question, we long for some unrestrained expressions of love. As they have done all this long year, wild birds show us that life and love can go on as before.
Even better, they unreservedly show their intentions in many of the same ways that humans do: music, dinner, dancing, showing off and, yes, kissing. If you watch carefully, you may see some romance right in your own backyard.
Of course, birds sing, but that’s usually to establish territory. Wooing is different. To court, California scrub jay males sing a soft melody to their intendeds that is quite different from the harsh screech that is their usual calling card. Beyond singing, the scrub jay tries to ensure success by having a house ready before courting. In spring, he will set up a territory and build a basket-shaped nest to attract a mate.
The red-headed house finches combine music, dance, kissing and dinner. The female pecks at his bill and flutters her wings. Then he sings while fluttering upward slowly then gliding back down. The male will feed her and keep feeding her even when she’s incubating eggs. The pair will stay together for the entire breeding season.
Yellow goldfinches surprisingly add an element of combat to courting. A male becomes aggressive, challenging any other males in his territory. But, with potential mates he is all charm, performing showy flight maneuvers, spreading his tail and wing feathers, and calling out. After mating, the male continues to defend its territory just as aggressively.
For sheer elegance and majesty, the courtship dance of Cooper’s hawk pairs is hard to beat. The lovers take a synchronized flight over their territory with slow exaggerated wing beats, a sort of raptor’s tango in slow motion.
The colorful little yellow-rumped warblers—a favorite visitor to feeders—dance with enthusiasm, flying back and forth beating their wings first slowly, then breaking into dance, rousing their feathers, flapping wings and chirping while hopping from perch to perch. To make sure the female notices, the male is a devoted suitor, accompanying her everywhere, fluffing his feathers and wings, and calling.
The beautiful hooded oriole male’s courting ritual includes bowing enthusiastically to the female then pointing his bill straight up while singing softly. The bonded pair are master weavers and will sew their nests on the underside of palm and yucca leaves. A true delight to watch this pair ready their nest and raise their young.
Taking the prize for showing off may be tiny hummingbirds. A courting male swoops more than 100 feet in the air, dives back down at top speed, then curves back up at just the last minute. Likewise, if the scrub jay’s song has not won his intended’s heart, he will preen and strut, acting the dandy, to persuade her.
Perhaps the most touching ceremony of all is the crow. Crows mate for life, so this is rare, unless the pair is young or a partner has died. A male looks fixedly at a female, calling to her and bowing. He ruffles his wings and puts his body on the ground, showing his beautiful shiny feathers. The female dances closer to him, calling and spreading her wings, as they exchange little beak kisses. Then, they fly off together.
If that isn’t romantic, what is?
Wild Birds Unlimited Santa Monica, located at 12433 Wilshire Blvd., specializes in bringing people and nature together with bird feeding and nature products, expert advice, and educational events. Visit our website and shop online at wbu.com/santamonica.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.