When we think about monogamy, we tend to focus exclusively on human relationships. There are indeed many of us who opt for the monogamous lifestyle, but we’re not the only species in the animal kingdom that faces this challenge. Scientists agree that around 90% of the bird species are monogamous, a massive majority that got many ornithologists wanting to know more.
Monogamy in birds is social, not genetic
The social dynamics of bird communities are quite complex, especially when it comes to breeding. There are many factors interfering with parents’ goals, such as the places they opt for mating. If they do not hang out in the best spots, chances are low that they will meet an ideal partner. And the mission is far from being complete even if they’re lucky enough to find someone. Team work is essential to raise chicks (“It takes a village…”). Parents face a lot of challenges. That’s why birds, as animals of habit, easily overcome these challenges by repeating the same “formula” year after year. And that includes investing in a long-term relationship with a single partner. If things worked out the last time, why shouldn’t they work out the next one?
There are behavioral and biological markers that have been associated with monogamy in birds, such as longevity, body size or brain volume. Ornithologists agree, however, that higher chances in the survival of the species has led to the adoption of this monogamous behavior, instead of being something that is encoded in their DNA. That’s why we use the expression “social monogamy” to describe birds’ relationships.
Wading birds can be quite aggressive when the stability of their relationship is at stake.