are birds capable of love

It’s Valentine’s Day, the day we celebrate romantic love, so I thought I would pose the question, “Do birds love?”

Scientists will say this question has been definitively answered with a big “no.” There are other scientists, however, who are just as sure it is “yes.” The argument is ongoing. They have, in trying to prove the other side wrong, gathered a bunch of interesting facts and evidence.

There are lots of reasons to consider it a possibility. First of all, almost 90 percent of birds are monogamous. Sure, recent genetic studies show there is a whole lot of cheating going on, but in general, one could argue that most birds are better than humans at monogamy. They are far more likely to stay in their relationships than us humans.

There is also a large base of anecdotal evidence supporting the “yes” side. Albatross mate for life. If a partner dies, the lone bird will go a year or two before trying to find a new mate. If you try to understand this from a natural selection perspective, you come away puzzled. The lone albatross would have better chances to pass on their genetics if they looked for a new mate immediately. Then, there are geese who have starved themselves to death after their long-time mate died. That’s pretty strong evidence of grief, if not love. And, how does one explain away the occurrence of healthy birds staying with a sick or dying mate, even bringing it food to try to nurse it back to health? Wouldn’t it be a better strategy to go find a new, healthy mate?

Some birds are also very affectionate with their mates, hence the terms “Love Birds” and “Lovey-Dovey.” Physical affection strengthens their pair-bond, but often does not directly contribute to better reproductive success. So why spend the energy?

It was the recorded observations of affection in pigeons and doves that actually convinced me that there is something like love going on in birds. It has been noted that in these birds, there are very affectionate pairs who can’t seem to keep their beaks off their mates, pairs that appear to want to be close to each other but not actually interact, and even some pairs that seem to just barely tolerate each other. If public displays of affection in doves were strictly a programmed instinctual responses, would there be this much variability?

Despite the anecdotal evidence, I think the question of love in lower animals will not be answered any time soon. In the meantime, I’ve included some s of birds who look to be in love… or not.

A wildlife photojournalist for almost three decades, Joe Galkowski has always worked to give others a glimpse into the lives of the amazing wild creatures that call California home. His s have appeared in numerous major publications such as BirdWatching, National Geographic, and National Wildlife. He lives in Livermore. Below are a few more photos of “love birds” by Rick Lewis.

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Joe Galkowski has been a wildlife photojournalist for nearly thirty years, and he has always tried to provide the public with an insight into the lives of the incredible wild animals that live in California. His writings have appeared in a number of prestigious magazines, including National Geographic, BirdWatching, and National Wildlife. He lives in Livermore. Here are some additional pictures of Rick Lewis’s “love birds.”

There are lots of reasons to consider it a possibility. First of all, almost 90 percent of birds are monogamous. Indeed, new genetic research reveals widespread infidelity, but overall, it could be argued that birds are generally more monogamous than humans. Compared to humans, they have a far higher chance of sticking in their relationships.

The terms “Love Birds” and “Lovey-Dovey” refer to certain birds that are also extremely affectionate with their partners. Although it improves their pair bond, physical affection frequently has no direct impact on increased reproductive success. So why spend the energy?.

I don’t think we will find an answer to the question of love in lower animals anytime soon, despite the anecdotal evidence. Meanwhile, here are a few pictures of birds that appear to be in love—or not.

The Golden Gate Bird Alliance is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Our federal tax ID number is 94-6086896.

And the oddest thing happened. She actively looked for me in the yard, just like the orphans who were fed by hand. She would perch on a short branch next to my face and peep. She would fluff her feathers and preen amiably when I spoke to her. I had only ever hand-fed her once, so I knew that her behavior had nothing to do with food. She would go check out the flower garden or her feeder, then come back and perch close to my face. She would hover in front of my nose, chipping agitatedly until I put my finger in front of my face as time went on and she developed her flying skills. And she lands on it, tucks her feathers in, and settles in for a thorough grooming and private conversation. Seemingly satisfied, she’d rocket away on some pressing hummingbird business.

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The sensation of having a wild, free-living hummingbird seek me out for company is beyond words. I’m still searching for an answer to this delightful conundrum. I’ve come to the conclusion that Sylvia, not having a mother, just needed to get in touch with someone she knew, someone who was concerned. And in some way, hearing someone talk to her with love satisfied that need. Being near me was clearly reassuring to her. I’m not sure if she loved me, but I knew that I loved her. Whatever was happening, I am certain that I will always be curious about the workings of birds’ minds, no matter how small.

It is evident that birds quickly procreate, copulate, and spread their genes. But love—can birds feel love? It’s probably best to define love before delving into this question. Love includes elements of need, but primarily those of affection. Deep yearning and a desire to be together are inspired by an attachment to another being. This attachment behavior in parrots is simple to witness, especially in companion birds. Over the years, a number of budgies and one elderly Chestnut-fronted Macaw named Charlie have approached me for cuddles, kisses, and allopreening. Charlie was never happier than when her wing was resting against my cheek and neck and she was perched on my shoulder. However, when discussing affection or “love” in parrots, jealousy—an additional unwanted component—must be mentioned. Parrots exhibit strong preferences in the partners they choose to show affection to, and they can be jealous of one another. Charlie used to carefully groom my cheek, lashes, and hair when Bill and I first started dating. He would also nibble at my lips and make loud kissing noises. Then she would scale Bill’s jeans, waddle across the room, get down my leg, and bite him once, squarely in the middle of his back. Sent a message, her favorite item and true love would waddle back to me.

I am aware that the homing instinct isn’t always a sign of affection. I pondered the nature of the connection I made with the three orphan hummingbirds. I am not good at assembling puzzles; I usually get a few pieces at a time. Would a young hummingbird grow attached to its caregiver, or was this dependence an artifact of the birds being hand-fed since they were in pinfeathers? By the next summer, I’d have one more piece. A year after the initial three orphans were brought in, I received a call from a woman who had discovered a newly fledged hummingbird imprisoned in a greenhouse. Bits of down still adhered to its head feathers. It was weak and debilitated from its long, hot ordeal. I placed it in a glass aquarium that was empty and added a tiny feeder with hummingbird maintenance food to its bill. It embraced this food source right away and started feeding itself after that. By the next morning it was strong enough to fly. I constructed a nylon screen tent in the backyard, let the hummingbird fly inside, and hung a feeder in the middle of the structure. I kept the foundling for six more days. I never handled it, fed it by hand, or did anything for it except give it kind words. Compared to the upbringing my three fledglings had the year before, it was very different.

FAQ

Can birds fall in love?

Humans aren’t the only animals that fall in love. In fact, as much as 70 percent of birds may form long-term pair bonds. That is, they stay together year after year. Or in some cases, they split up, then come back together when it’s mating season.

Do birds have the capacity for love?

Many species of birds will choose a mate and create a long-term pair bond. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Just as with us humans, the death of a partner or even serious injury or infertility may make a bird seek another mate. In contrast, other birds will bond but not for their entire lives.

Do birds love their partner?

Birds Showing Love and Affection Mated birds preen each other, share food, and protect each other from predators and threats as a sign of their bond. And they take their bonds seriously: 90% of the bird population is monogamous, with many—like bald eagles, mute swans, and whooping cranes—mating for life.

What do birds do when they are in love?

Courtship behavior can include things like food delivery, dance moves (displays), and mutual preening. In many cases, the most extravagant courtship displays belong to the species where males contribute little else to the relationship—think strutting grouse or dancing birds-of-paradise.