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Outdoors: Valentine

Black-capped chickadees

One of the most romantic songs I can think is from the Lerner and Loewe musical “Camelot."

“If Ever I Would Leave You” is sung to Queen Guinevere by Sir Lancelot.

But there is a problem.

She is married to and still loves King Arthur, a wonderful, steady husband, but perhaps not quite as dashing and romantic as Lancelot.

I understand that it is inherently wrong to equate animal behavior to that of humans.

But I can’t help myself; this whole plot line reminds me of black-capped chickadees.

This time of year, chickadees are traveling in flocks, cooperating with each other, more or less, but establishing a dominance hierarchy.

When the time comes to form pairs, the alpha female will probably pair with the alpha male, and the lower ranking chickadees pair up, pretty much according to where they fall in the pecking order.

Consequently, some of the lower ranking females have to “settle” for the less desirable males.

So these females, while pairing and making a nest with one of the less desirable males, are involved in what biologists call “a mixed mating strategy resulting in extra-pair paternity.”

In other words, a female will likely sneak off and mate with a higher-status male.

DNA testing reveals that this is surprisingly common.

Right now, the “good genes hypothesis” has gained wide acceptance.

The idea is that a female will have one or two offspring with higher genetic quality than they would had they bred only with their own mate.

The loyal, steady male which is protecting her nest and feeding her offspring.

And that indeed happens, and extra-pair paternity does improve the gene pool.

But do the females know what they are doing?

I seriously doubt it, but they are attracted by a handsome male.

And I truly do know better than to expect birds to live up to our societal mores for monogamy.

Just the same, if ever I would leave my husband, it wouldn’t be in springtime, summer, winter or fall!

No, never would I leave my valentine at all.

"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.