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Desert Diary
Birds/Valentine's Day


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Valentine's is a day for couples to celebrate their commitment. While decidedly a people holiday, the day's meaning is manifested in birds as well. Some birds make short-term commitments only for mating, but commonly, the arrangement is monogamy for the entire breeding season. For a few, such as Sandhill Cranes, elaborate courtship songs and balletic pas de deux can lead to life-long commitments, though the first few years may be rocky and end in separation. If surviving these "getting-to-know-you" years, they will remain together until death, and years may pass before a surviving mate looks for a new partner.

A bond between birds as strong as any between humans has been illustrated by black ducks. On two different occasions during fall courtship, mates refused to leave their fallen companion even as the gunners approached, and the rest of the flock took flight. It is unknown whether the strength of these bonds results from a territorial attachment, a comfort level between individuals, or something like human affection. Whatever the reason, mate fidelity in birds truly exemplifies the spirit of Valentine's Day.
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Contributor: Scott Cutler, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Sandhill and Whooping cranes

Sandhill and Whooping Cranes (white) at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, Rio Grande Valley. Magdalena Mountains in the background. Photograph by Gary M. Stolz, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.