Valentine’s Day is only a couple weeks away and many people will be proposing marriages or beginning long-term relationships on that day. Humans aren't the only ones that think about love and long-term relationships this time of year. Many birds do, as well as about 90% of all bird species are monogamous (in some way) during the breeding season, if not longer. Several species that reside here in San Diego and elsewhere do form long-term pair bonds that mostly last for the life of at least one of the pair. Like people, these monogamous relationships aren't perfect and there are some cases of infidelity or “break-ups”, but most stay together for years.
Birds, and other animals are monogamous because it gives them an advantage raising young quickly and providing more protection. Birds who are monogamous spend less time fighting for mates and territory and more time raising young. It may also mean more care and protection for the young with one parent being always on or near the nest at all time.
Click on the photos for 5 species, common in San Diego, that stay with their mate for most, if not all, of their lives.
Canada goose: Geese are famous for lifetime bonding and Canada geese, brant, or even domestic geese generally stay together for their entire lives. It’s not always perfect and sometimes they break up and find another mate, but most of the time they will pair bond for life. Females usually incubate the eggs while the male keeps an eye out for danger. Both parents take part in raising the young and are very protective.
Corvids: Crows and ravens generally begin to seek a mate at around the end of their second year. Females incubate the eggs while the male defends the territory and brings food to the nest. Crows tend to stay with their parents up, helping with the next year’s chicks, while ravens leave their parents earlier and spend some time in bachelor groups before finding a mate.
Gulls: Gulls also tend to pair-bond for life, usually finding their first mate by their third or fourth year. They may separate between breeding seasons and re-pair up in the spring in their breeding territory. They also take turns incubating the eggs and raising the young.
Great-horned owls: Here, the larger female is in charge and does all the egg incubating and chick rearing. The male brings her food and helps protect the family from danger. During the non-breeding period, they usually spend their time apart. A few months before breeding season begins, they pair up again before starting a new clutch of eggs.
Red-tailed hawks: Red-tailed hawks also tend to mate for life, but stay together mostly during the breeding season. One can see these hawks doing courtship displays throughout the breeding season or see the pair roosting together. Both the parents incubate the eggs, rear the young, and defend the territory.