Feb 14 2008
It’s Valentine’s Day and all across America lovers are giving gifts and going out to dinner.
Even though it doesn’t feel like spring, the birds of prey are courting too.
Birds time their egg laying so that their babies are born when the most food is available. For peregrines, who eat birds, hatching occurs during spring migration when thousands of songbirds are passing through. For red-tailed hawks, who eat rodents, their babies hatch when the year’s first mice, chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits have left the nest.
To get the hatching time right, peregrine egg laying has to happen in late March in Pittsburgh so February is courting time.
Pictured here are Dorothy and Erie in a uniquely peregrine courtship ritual. They bow low toward each other over the scrape – where Dorothy will lay the eggs – and they make a creaking call to each other. Peregrine females are larger than males, so Dorothy is the one on the left. This falconcam photo is from 2003, but peregrine pairs do this every year.
Raptors have other courting rituals amazingly similar to those of humans.
People court by walking hand-in-hand. Raptors court by flying together. Today our local red-tailed hawks did some courtship flying over Central Catholic High School.
Just as men take their wives out to dinner, the male raptor catches prey and offers it to his lady. Often, after she eats as much as she wants he finishes the feast. Many humans reverse this when the wife eats off the husband’s plate because she “doesn’t want any dessert.”
Soon I will participate in the dessert exchange ritual. I’m a wife.