Male Hooded Mergansers raise crests, hoping that will make them more attractive to prosepective mates.
Did you ever marvel at the beautiful people being interviewed on the red carpet leading up to the annual Academy Awards ceremony? Or watch all those gorgeous bodies working out, or merely showing their stuff, on South Beach? Or see glamorous models strutting the latest fashions on an elevated runway? Or experience the excitement of dressing up for a senior prom? All are examples of how we humans strive to appear at our very best, demonstrating how attractive and desirable we can be, and what a fine choice any other human would make, if he or she chose us.
Is it any surprise then, that birds engage annually in the same intense displaying behavior in order to convince prospective mates of their desirability and fitness for passing on their genes to ensure the survival of the species? Although, I doubt that either humans or birds are thinking of their behavior in those particular terms at that particular time. Or maybe they are.
Just over a hundred years ago, egrets (Great Egret, left) almost became extinct when women’s fashions sought to transfer the beauty of the displaying bird to the beauty ofthe most fashionable hat, undoubtedly, both for the same purpose. Egrets and herons (Tri-colored Heron, right) display by pointing their necks and heads either to the sky or to the ground, and splaying their plumes in an elaborate delicate fan.
Many grouse species and, most notably, Wild Turkeys (right) and Peacocks (more correctly, several species of “Peafowl,” see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peafowl) are most famous for the fanned feathers display which is most familiar to us all. Other species have body parts that change color, such as the bright red and lavender that invades the yellow bill of the Cattle Egret, or the bright red eye lores and orange feet of the normally “golden slippered” Snowy Egret, or the green eye lores of the breeding Great Egret, in addition to all those gorgeous plumes.
Some species, such as the Hooded Merganser, are able to raise a crest, which presumably makes them more attractive to the opposite sex, than their un-crested competitors, even if the female does appear to be scolding him.
But perhaps the most dramatic body part display is that of the male Magnificent Frigatebird (left), who is able to blow up a huge red sac under his bill to create a sight that no female of the species can possibly resist. And you don’t have to go to the Dry Tortugas to witness the Frigatebird sac display, they sometimes perform, as this one did, on an island in the Indian River at Jensen Beach.
So the next time you see a wedding couple all decked out in their finest “plumage,” or a pair of robins just jumping up and down, face to face, in the front yard; just remember, they are only doing what courting couples have done for years, (centuries?, eons?): trying to convince a mate that he or she has indeed made the right choice. Can you imagine humans with a tail to fan like a turkey? Now there is a thought provoking image to take with you from this article!
For all you ever wanted to know about birds displaying see: http://www.stanford.edu/group/stanfordbirds/text/essays/Visual_Displays.html.
For a fascinating video of the absolute ultimate in bird displaying behavior, see the Birds of Paradise Project video at: http://www.cornell.edu/video/?VideoID=2398.
For a video of Western Grebes doing their “walking on water” display, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2YfOdWp0pk&NR=1&feature=endscreen.
And finally, for an unusual bit of Wire-tailed Manakin dancing display, see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Wire-tailed_Manakin