two Mourning doves perched on a tree branch
A pair of mourning doves strengthen their bond by mutual preening and cooing softly to each other. Doves mate for life and inspired the term ‘lovey dovey’ in the late 1700s. Source: idioms.com. Photo by Tom Koerner/USFWS.

Are you a lovebird? You might be if you point, stare, hop, hoot or cartwheel for your sweetheart! Which of nature’s pairs below best reflects your inner cupid? 💘

Bald eagle

Two bald eagles engage in a courtship display. Source: https://gph.is/g/EBrBpAB

The regal bald eagle puts on one of the most spectacular courtship shows. Mated partners lock talons in midflight and then spiral in a free-fall dive known as cartwheeling. Eagles often mate for life, and pairs will return to the same nests year after year. Male bald eagles help with nest construction and raising the eaglets.

Sandhill crane

two sandhill cranes jumping in the air in a marsh
Sandhill cranes displaying a courtship dance at Cosumnes River Preserve in California. Photo by Bob Wicks/BLM.

During mating season, the tall, elegant sandhills stand close together, singing songs in synchronized unison then jumping into a well-choreographed dance number. Dancing can occur any time of year and may play a role in strengthening the pair bond.

Mōlī (Laysan albatross)

Two nesting Laysan albatross
Two nesting Laysan albatross
Two Laysan albatross at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial. Photo by Kiah Walker/USFWS.

Reaching maturity as late as 10 years, these birds don’t rush into anything. They first learn from their elders, observing courtship rituals like dancing, preening, staring and pointing bills (typical kids!). After years of homework, the young adult albatross starts by dancing with many partners (same sex pairs are not uncommon) but over the years, narrows it down to the “chosen one,” who they will pair bond with and raise a chick.

Great horned owl

two great horned owls perch in a tree
two great horned owls perch in a tree
Great horned owl pair. Photo courtesy of Robert Pruner/Creative Commons. https://flic.kr/p/bxzGQT.

These owls perform lengthy courtship duets beginning in winter. Listen for characteristic hoots on cold, crisp evenings at dusk or dawn. Females are larger than males and start the duet, and the smaller males respond with a much lower pitched hoot. Attentive males will bring food to the nest for the female and owlets.

Wilson’s phalarope

A female and male Wil’son’s phalarope standing in a marsh
A female and male Wil’son’s phalarope standing in a marsh
A Wilson’s phalarope pair; female at left and male at right. Photo courtesy of Ric Grupe.

In a complete role reversal from most bird species, females of this little shorebird exhibit vivid chestnut and black colors along the face and neck in breeding season as they court many males. The selected partner does most of the egg incubation. This is unlike most of the bird world where males wear the colors and either share incubation/rearing duties or leave it all up to the females.

Between dancing, serenading, or taking your time to find ‘the one,’ lovebird pairs come in all shapes and sizes. Tell us, who do you identify with the most?

Written by Susan Sawyer, public affairs officer and Rebecca Fabbri, public affairs specialist, California-Great Basin

We’re dedicated to the conservation, protection and enhancement of fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats.

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