A commentary on some birds in courtship and commitment
The courtship and commitments practiced by birds demonstrate selflessness, care and long-term commitment to their mate and young alike in ways that have to be witnessed to be believed.
Whether in real-life or legend, birds such as the geese, pelicans or bald eagles have demonstrated immense strengths in their actions, which humans could not hope to achieve. It is such a beautiful and terrible set of feats these birds accomplish.
When I was only eight years-old, I was driving with my dad through some fields. My dad pointed out the window to a pair of Canada Geese and said, “When you see two geese together like that, it means they will remain with each other until one of them dies, or both of them die.”
According to a Discovery Channel documentary I saw, the Canada Goose has a number of rules they follow when selecting a mate and spending life with the mate. The female who chooses the mate based mainly on his strength and stamina, and how able he will be in protecting her.
When together the female makes the nest, incubates the eggs and they both patrol the male’s section of the lake which geese establish and patrol as invisible boundaries.
On the issue of motherhood, the pelican enters the fray. According to legend, this bird will express with its body a statement of unconditional love. If the mother pelican is not able to find food for its young in times of drought or famine, it will tear open its chest with her beak to nourish its young with her blood.
This act of selflessness demonstrates the beautiful and terrible lengths a funny-looking bird like the pelican will go to support its family, an act which was incorporated in Christianity symbols.
This act of beautiful and terrible love was so powerful it became seen as Christlike in the Roman Catholic church, corresponding with John 6:55-6:56; “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
In a statement, the spectacle, our nation’s bird, the bald eagle enters the fray. I was having a casual discussion with my family when the subject of the bald eagle entered. My younger sibling immediately became animated, describing the “sky death-drop” which bald eagles accomplish with their mate, expressing untold courage and selflessness.
I had only ever seen this strange and splendorous action illustrated in a nature book but was uncertain what it was and meant. In this “death-drop,” which takes place as the final step of the “mating ritual,” the bald eagles fly to a highpoint in the sky before grabbing each other’s claws, linking the talons and immediately stop flying, engaging in a terrifying freefall towards the earth below.
It is my personal speculation that this dangerous act of self-denial is the eagle’s way of physically demonstrating that they will remain together in life as they almost have in death. This is demonstrated since after this act is accomplished, they fly off to the nest to make some eggs and begin their family.
This test is something only birds could do, not only because us humans can’t fly, but also because we wouldn’t dare be this expressive.
In conclusion, I find it fascinating how similar, and different the human’s courtship rituals are with those of the birds I have mentioned. Like the Canada Goose, it is usually the female who selects the male and the female who is the home-maker after moving into the male’s home.
Like the pelican, there are mothers who would do everything in their power to protect and supply for their children; in different ways than physically giving blood to be sure but working many jobs and committing completely may as well suffice.
This brings me to the difference between humans and animals regarding the bald eagle’s death drop. In the arguable equivalent of holding hands with a loved partner and leaping off a bridge, few humans seem to love their partner so much as to deny themselves like this.
In a world where divorce seems just as common as marriage, it does make you wonder if these animals have discovered something we haven’t. So when you enjoy your Valentine’s Day, keep in mind the love you have for your family, friends or sweethearts, and realize our feathered friends may not be so birdbrained after all.