“It’s a competitive process,” he said Pierre Comizzoli, a research vet at the National Zoo. “We always believe that all animals reproduce. It is not true. For example, some men will be dominant.”
In some animal species – elephants, primates, deer – a particularly tasty male can fall in love with numerous females, leaving other males unlucky.
“In relation to these songbirds that we have in our garden, the female is the chosen one and the male is the shown one,” said the ornithologist Bruce Beehler, research fellow at the National Museum of Natural History. “He’s the one doing his best. He prepares the nest. He sings. He gets a piece of territory. It’s up to the woman to decide who’s the sexiest or has the best nest or the best song.”
And the ones that are second, third or fourth best?
“I wouldn’t be surprised if nearly half the males in the typical songbird’s environment don’t breed in an average year,” Beehler said. “It’s rough and stormy. It looks very neat on paper and when it works it works great, mostly for the woman.”
Most successful songbirds have already produced a brood in spring that year.
“The really gung ho are trying to have a second brood,” Beehler said. “They pull out a couple of babies, send them on their way, and then try again. That’s what evolution is all about: getting those offspring out, as many as possible.”
This is tough on male songbirds who are unable to carve out a bit of space to call their own.
“Birds that don’t even get territories are called floaters,” Beehler said. “They kind of hang around hoping to find a little niche to establish themselves in.”
Maybe that’s what I see: a floater. Or a young bird that hasn’t learned the ropes yet.
Male wrens will build two or three nests in hopes of gaining a female’s approval.
“Females are attracted based on the location of the nest or its construction,” Beehler said. “Wrens are wonderful singers too, one of my absolute favorites. So the singing is probably important for the woman as well.”
“These birds don’t live long,” Beehler said. “With age comes experience. Practice creates masters. The youngest birds — or those coming back to breed for the first time — will be the ones who don’t succeed.”
In some species there is another complication: the places where you can mix are too spread out.
“That’s the problem we have in the wild: the density of the animals is too low,” Comizzoli said. “And actually, they can’t meet. If they don’t meet, well, they can’t reproduce. That’s kind of a shame. This situation is really a result of human activities such as deforestation or destruction or the fragmentation of natural habitat.”
When you have a low population density, it’s like living in a small town: the pickers are slim. And nobody likes to commit.
“Even if they can see each other, they might not like each other,” Comizzoli said.
Scientists at places like the National Zoo are trying to help by introducing animals to each other in captive situations. Of course, no chemistry guarantees that, especially in some living beings.
“Female cheetahs are extremely picky,” Comizzoli said. “They won’t breed with any males. They will choose their partners. If you don’t have enough males in your collection and the females don’t like males for some reason, then they won’t breed.”
For some animals – giant pandas come to mind – artificial insemination remains the best option.
At the moment we are in the middle of summer. This wren is still dutifully singing his love song. I asked Beehler if the bird would eventually give up, stop singing, pursue a hobby like fantasy baseball for the rest of the summer, or invest in NFTs.
“He probably won’t,” Beehler said. “He’ll probably leave until the weather tells him it’s time to go south. He’s packing his bags and he’s like, ‘It’s been a shitty summer. We hope next spring will be better.’”
Maybe this bird needs a wingman.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2022/07/10/house-wren-dating-woes/ A wren in my backyard is singing his little heart out. In vain I’m afraid.