Avian Fathers

Most of us have grown up with the notion that bird moms will sit tight on the nest, feed the chicks when they hatch, and often attempt to draw predators away from the babies. This concept made Horton the Elephant’s story (Horton Hatches an Egg) so interesting, that a bird mom would give up her nest and let someone else sit on it.061916 horton

The truth is, some avian dads are really very good at the whole Father thing. Audubon has a list of good and bad papas. http://www.audubon.org/news/bird-dad-awards-innovative-endearing-and-less-admirable Scientific American learned that nightingales who sing really well make the best dads. http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/best-male-nightingale-vocalists-make-best-fathers/

And Mr. Hart of St. Lucie Audubon compares avian dads to human dads. http://stlucieaudubon.org/hartBeat/hb2014/hb140601fathers.html (More great links on this page)

061916 emu

I wonder why Audubon didn’t list the emu. After playing the field and mating with several males, the female scarpers off to the local spa. Dad sits on the eggs, some of which may not actually have been fertilized by him. He hardly eats or drinks, and in Australia that can be very dangerous. He loses weight but after eight weeks or so, the chicks burst out of their eggs and he can move around again.

Emu chicks are adorable and precocious so they can walk, see, eat, drink, etc. What they can’t do is stave off the many predators in the bush. Dad stick around to see to that. Often they remain a family group until the next breeding season. http://www.planetozkids.com/oban/animals/facts-emu.htm

061916 rhea

The greater rhea, a relative of the emu, shares child care in the same way. Except the female has no visitation rights. The male will charge and chase her away from the nest. Once the kids hatch, however, dad saves his ire for predators. Meanwhile he teaches the kids to eat everything and anything.

Off the breeding season, the rhea are social and gather in large flocks. Not only that, they believe in mixed herds, welcoming guanaco and deer to gather with them. Embracing diversity is a good trait in a dad. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/greater-rhea/

It’s only fair to look at another well-known ratite, the ostrich. I’m glad I did this, because I had no idea that there were more than one species of ostrich. And there are now different ways that the ostriches court and mate and so on. But they all do seem to hatch their eggs the same way.

061916 ostrich

All of the species or subspecies of ostriches are sexually dimorphic. Meaning you can tell a boy from a girl when they have their mature plumage. Boys are black, girls are drab brown. A hen on a nest during the day keeps the heat of the sun from frying the eggs, and also does a good job of camouflaging the nest. Dad sits on the eggs at night, rendering the nest totally invisible.

Incubation is swift, 35 to 45 days. Probably because the predation is so severe. Once the chicks are out and walking around, Dad chases away predators and teaches the kids to eat. Mom helps as well. In spite of the help of two large adults, only 15% of the chicks will see their first birthday. Still, if they survive to adulthood, they might reach 60 years of age or more. And become moms and dads over and over. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ostrich

Happy Father’s Day to all! Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Thursday.


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