More than 90 percent of birds appear to be monogamous, but beneath the surface there is a huge variety of mating systems in play, from temporary monogamy and extra pair mating to multiple partners for either sex, with some species switching between these as their circumstances change.
Discover the amazing array of courtship techniques employed by birds around the world:
- male bowerbirds construct extravagant galleries to attract females
- ospreys bring gifts of food in exchange for sex
- male skylarks perform simultaneous aerial and vocal acrobatics to impress females
- the practice of lekking, where males in a species such as grouse gather to display to females, who then complete reproduction solo, from nesting to raising chicks.
Learn how male ornament is used as a sign of quality: when a long-tailed widowbird in East Africa shows off his immaculate 16-inch long tail, he is advertising the quality of his genes.
Having somewhere safe to bring up chicks is paramount, and a male with impressive building skills or a nest in a prime location will attract a mate. Bird nests shown here range from nothing but a bare branch on which white terns lay their unshielded egg, to the enormous mud and stick mounds constructed by hamerkops. Taking security to the extreme, female hornbills seal themselves in to their tree hollow nests, relying on their mates to deliver food through a narrow slit.
But it's not all about males seeking to impress or dominate females: sex roles can be reversed, and the book includes examples such as the black coucal, whose females are 70% bigger than males, sing to defend territories, and leave the males to perform all childcare duties. The limited availability of nest holes for the eclectus parrots of Melanesia means that females fight each other to secure a home, and the winner may have up to seven mates.
Which partner looks after the chicks can depend on the population's male-female ratio, and either sex can desert the nest in search of further matings to secure another clutch of chicks. The different levels of parental care are revealed, such as preferential feeding, allowing an insurance chick to die, and how songbirds teach their young to sing their species-specific song.
Harsh habitats can make group breeding the best means of survival, and many species have more than two adults per nest, helping to bring food, deter predators or tend young.
Brood parasitism, where birds such as cuckoos and cowbirds lay their eggs in other birds' nests, is a strange and fascinating concept, and the book explores how these species have evolved to delegate all parental care. Alongside, it also shows how host species have developed a wide range of tactics to defend their nests and their own families or to make the best of bringing up an impostor.
The essential insight to bird family life, Bird Love is richly illustrated with stunning colour photographs, and regular Backyard Bird boxes in each chapter showcase familiar species from around the world.
- : 9781782407485
- : Ivy Press, The
- : The Ivy Press
- : March 2020
- : books
- : Wenfei Tong; Mike Webster (Consultant Editor)
- : Hardback
- : English
- : 192