Shops are currently filled with heart shaped chocolates, stuffed toys that say "I wuv you" and bouquets of flowers, encouraging us to shower our significant other with gifts in an annual declaration of love and appreciation. Whether you are going all out with extravagant plans, or not you will definitely be aware that it's Valentine's Day! However, humans are not the only species that have evolved special courtship behaviors to woo a partner - from gift giving, to dazzling dances, birds all over the world have developed elaborate tactics to compete for the affection of someone special. Here are some of the more interesting displays that we think you might enjoy (and who knows, maybe to pick up some tips for your February 14th plans...!)
Just looking at a Great Hornbill with its large, brightly colored casque (the protuberance above the bill) it is an easy assumption to make that this display is important for attracting a mate. However, the most identified mechanism used in the breeding season is a little more romantic – they sing!
The males become very vocal – making a loud and repetitive “kok” sound. If interested, the female then begins to join in, forming a rauchous duet with the male. To keep the romance alive, the male makes gifts of food to the female which continues throughout her nesting period.
Adeline penguins have quite a practical way of wooing their future beloved… alongside some head bobbing and wing flapping, they also make a more practical contribution– the gift of rocks to build, elevate and secure the nest. Some accounts show the penguins can be very choosy about what pebbles they bring to the female; scouring a whole beach to find very special ones. More commonly observed though is when males resort to stealing from other nests or just picking up the nearest rock available - slightly less romantic than the idea of a long search for the 'perfect pebble'...
Bower birds are a family of 20 species which are well known for their ability to build intricate and decorated constructions (called Bowers) to try and attract a mate.
They use decorations that nature has to offer like sticks, feathers and shells, but will also use anything brightly colored that they can find. It areas close to humans this can mean anything from scraps of plastic bags to discarded toys or cardboard. Males will also often be sneaky and sabotage their competition's Bowers - making their own efforts look more impressive and to steal some extra decorations.
The Superb Fairywren
The superb fairywren is a small bird from Australia which is socially monogamous, but also seeks extra pairing matings. It is when this occurs they use a special beautiful gift – a flower petal. It seems that sometimes this is given to the female directly to woo her, and other times given to a more dominant male to avoid any confrontation and to recognize his superiority and rights to the female in question. We would probably stick to the traditional whole flowers/ bouquets if you have a human Valentine - the single petal might not quite cut it..
Last but not least, we have the aptly named: Love Birds. A term commonly used to describe a loved up couple, it actually is the name of a group of birds (9 species within the genus Agapornis) known for their monogamous relationships and romantic courtships.
Love birds have such close relationships, they sit very closely together, they feed each other, and seem to become depressed if separated and almost constantly preen each other. It is also believed by some that the poem "Parliament of Foules" by Chaucer is about Love Birds. As this is one of the first known connections between St. Valentine and romance, this could mean that these little birds are the reason we celebrate love on February 14th at all!
Diamond, J. (1987), Bower Building and Decoration by the Bowerbird Amblyornis inornatus. Ethology, 74: 177–204. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.1987.tb00932.x
KL. Bauman, CA. ASA (2015) Reproductive behavior of the great hornbill (Buceros bicornis). Zoo Biology
McKee, M (2005). “Mating In A Material World.” National Wildlife.