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MISTER MOM: MALE BIRDS WHO PARENT

The Sandhill Crane participates in all aspects of parenting, caring for his young chicks with the female for a year [Photo: Audubon Society]

In most animal species, the care of offspring falls to the female. While rare in most other animals, male parenting and incubating is most common in birds. These Mister Moms of the sky are also the most likely to parent offspring not their own.[1] As Father’s Day approaches, let’s peek inside the nursery and see which bird dads rule the nest.

It turns out that arrangements for bird parenting are not a whole lot different than that of humans. There’s the traditional approach where the female does virtually all parenting and feeding, leaving the male to hunt for food and protect the nest. For the most part, birds do what most modern families do – they share parenting duties as equally as possible when it comes to brooding and feeding.

Modern Families and Super Dads

The super dad of the avian world goes to the Sandhill Crane who shares nest-building, incubation, feeding and co-raising their young with the mother for a year.

Kingfishers – loved by the bird watching community – have a modern approach to parenting. Both male and female build their waterside burrow nests and share incubation and feeding duties. Their ravenous offspring can consume 20-40 small fish per day.

Male Robins don’t build the nest, but they provide nourishment for the female as she does.

 

The Robin’s parental instincts are so highly developed that they are known to feed chicks or fledglings of other species. The male Robin does not do any of the brooding, but does share feeding duties with the female once their offspring are fledgling. [Photo: Birdwatching Daily]

Blue Jays are not the most beloved birds for backyard birdwatchers, but usually mate for life. Blue Jay males are known to raid other nests of their eggs, but have:

  • Highly developed and complex social systems
  • Form tight family bonds

 

Kingfishers – darlings of the bird watching community – have a modern approach to parenting. Both male and female build their waterside burrow nests and share incubation duties.

 

Night shift, day shift bird style

  • Starlings share the task of brooding during the day, with the male taking the traditional 9 to 5 shift, and the female brooding at night.
  • Double-crested Cormorants relieve each other of nesting duties about every hour.
  • Sandpipers, pigeons and doves take the Starling approach with males brooding during working hours and females through the night.
  • Woodpeckers alternate nesting duties during the day, with the male taking the night shift and warming the eggs at night.
  • Northern Flicker fathers sit on incubating eggs all night and half the day.
  • Peregrine Falcons share the scrape nesting duties during the day. After hatching, the male takes on hunting duties while the female trains the baby Falcons to hunt.
  • In an extreme example of shared incubation, the African Common Waxbill sits together on their clutch the entire time of incubation.

Slacker dad

The male hummingbird takes no part whatsoever in nest-building, the incubation of their tiny eggs – each weighing only a few grams – nor the feeding of his baby hummingbirds. He does, however, feed the female while she broods and keeps watch over the nest from afar.

Happy Father’s Day month to our Wingspan Optics bird watching community!

[1] Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 1994