RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2016

February 4, 2016

BBC Springwatch 2016

February 4, 2016

Monogamy in garden birds

February 4, 2016

IT IS COMMONLY THOUGHT THAT BIRDS are completely monogamous to their partners, but recent findings demonstrate that this is only true genetically 15% of the time. So which birds are really staying true, and which ones are cheekily playing the field? Is it true monogamy, or just for the first year? After all, we've all felt that 7 year itch, right?!

In time for Valentine's Day, Garden Wildlife brings you our very own version of "Birdie Blind Date"! Find out which birds are playing away, and which you can expect to be snuggled up in front of Tweet-er together on the 14th.

© Jacob Spinks, available underpublic license

BEHIND DOOR NO. 1 is the Dunnock! A small, slim and neutrally coloured bird, the Dunnock's plain plumage hides a life of promiscuity. Dunnocks are most certainly not monogamous, as it is indeed very common for females to hold relationships with two males, while males are also known to have at least two girls on the go! This may seem odd to you or I, but the reason behind it is because territories for dunnocks are pretty large, so if one alpha male holds a territory, it is likely that he will have the pick of several females.

The mating rituals of the Dunnock are also pretty bizarre, with the male pecking insistently at the female's vent (the cloaca) to eject any previous attempts at mating, before attempting the same thing himself. This is done to try and increase a chance at fatherhood - the male Dunnocks may have lots of girls to attend to, but they are still keen to father yet more!

If this sounds unpleasant, try not to feel too sympathetic for the female Dunnock, who will often shake off her alpha male in the hope of having a cheeky fling with one of the lower males in the territory! Naughty!

So if you see a pair of Dunnocks, and the female seems to be having her rear (below her tail) pecked, don't be alarmed; this is in fact a common ritual for these birds, who most definitely like to experience several partners.

ONTO DOOR NO. 2! The blackbird is one of few monogamous species in the bird kingdom, with birds picking partners that last right until death. The breeding pair will often locate suitable nests for the female together, to help her feel the most comfortable.

This species' European varieties are likely to start breeding around March, so if you want to give them a helping hand, you can make shed ledges and cavities more readily available, but most birds will favour various trees or shrubs.

Commen European Blackbird
© David Freil, available underpublic license

Both parents will also feed their young after 12-14 days of incubating the eggs, which can take anywhere between 10-19 days. However, it doesn't stop there! Like many young human teenagers, baby blackbirds will beg for food from their parents even after they've left the nest, with their parents providing food for up to 3 weeks.

If nesting has proven successful, the happy couple are possible to return again and again, should they remain hidden from predators. In fact, monogamy leads to at least 3 broods from the average blackbird!

European Pied Flycatcher
© Estormiz, available underpublic license

FINALLY, BEHIND DOOR NO. 3, we have a true deceiver of the bird world, the player of players...The European Pied Flycatcher! This is a species with one of the larger populations, so clearly being a player in the bird world works quite well.

These birds will act as though they are not already spoken for, purely to score with another female!

To counter this, though, some females will dedicate hours to watch over their partners, scaring away any females that may come close. Similarly, they tend to mate frequently, both to weaken the male so that he cannot show interest in other females, and to increase the chances of fertility! Often, males will leave their home territory after their primary female mate has laid her first eggs. Then, he will create a second territory, to attract new females to him. However, the male tends to often return to the first female to care for her and his children, abandoning his taudry affair with another woman. Cases have also been known where the male has been found to care for both females; ooh ladies, can you imagine the catfights?!

As you can see here, we have a strictly monogamous bird, a despicable player and finally, one species that enjoys a bit of a wild love life. There are many species that conform to these similar patterns; try observing a few and seeing if you can spot any similar patterns!

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