Written by Lisa Busa, Glade Run Lake Conservancy Director
Another Valentine's Day has come and gone. Women everywhere were showered with candy, flowers, and maybe even some shiny new jewelry. But have you ever wondered how animals woo their mates? Spring is right around the corner and animals everywhere will be on the lookout for that special someone. Let's take a peek at what these scaly, feathered, and furry creatures have up their sleeves.
In fact, let's look at a few species that you can find at Glade Run Lake...
Painted turtle. Photo courtesy of Lisa Busa
The courtship behavior of the painted turtle has got to be one of the cutest things I've ever seen. First off, the males have substantially longer claws than the females. What’s the purpose of this? Well, during courtship, the males will flutter their claws quickly across the sides of the female's face and neck. And all of this in the hopes that the female will say “My, what big claws you have!” To which the male replies, “Better to dig in the muddy pond bottom in search of food for you, my dear.” At least, that’s what I imagine they are saying.
The following video from CBS Philadelphia shows this behavior:
Next on our list, we have the stunning flight displays of the majestic bald eagles. Their whirling sky-dance is named the “courtship cartwheel”. Bald eagles will lock talons mid-flight and spin as they quickly spiral downward. Then they will separate just before reaching the ground.
This aerial performance isn’t the only way that a bald eagle pair will “fall for each other”. They also bond over nest building. Eagles will take turns gathering nesting supplies to either build a new nest or, since they return to the same nesting site every year, they may choose to add to last season's nest. Nests on average are 5-6 feet wide and three feet tall!
See below for some videos of the bald eagle's magnificent courtship display.
Left: Bald eagles. Photo courtesy of Tom Koerner, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service | Right: Bald eagles. Photo courtesy of Bob Kothenbeutel, Birds and Blooms Magazine
While we're talking about our feathered friends, let's look at a couple more bonding birds.
To woo their beloved, barred owls offer their mate a treat. But they don’t use candy to sweeten the deal. They will offer something more appetizing, like a plump rodent. The male will start the flirting session by vocalizing to the female from afar. If she is impressed, she will respond and move closer to him. By night-time, they are sharing meals, snuggling, and preening one another. These sweethearts will start breeding as early as March.
Barred owls. Photo courtesy of News & Record Greensboro.com
For red-winged blackbirds, it’s the best-dressed sweet-talker that has successfully secured a boast-worthy territory who wins the heart of his partner.
Males will arrive at the breeding grounds early to make sure that he, and he alone, has claimed the best spot. He will spend much of this time fending off intruders. Once the females arrive, they will choose their mate based on the quality of the male's territory. Checklist includes an abundant food supply, fresh water for drinking and bathing, and safe nesting sites in tall grasses. He will display his red and yellow patches on his shoulders (or epaulets) while vocalizing. The males with the most vibrant colors are most attractive to the females.
Left: Male displaying for female. Photo courtesy of Lisa Busa. | Right: Male flashing his epaulets. Photo courtesy of Lisa Busa.
Last but not least, let’s take a look at a species that doesn’t necessarily follow in the footsteps of our previous pairs. If you’ve ever attended a Sadie Hawkins dance, then you’ll recognize the courtship of our next animal. Oh, and did I mention that the DJ is playing “Muskrat Love”?
That’s right! The muskrat is our next woo-er of the wetland. In this species, it's the female that makes the first move. She will lure her lover in by swimming by and making squeaking sounds. Throw a little muskrat musk into the air and apparently this performance is irresistible to the male. If only it were that easy for us humans, right?
Muskrats. Photo courtesy of treehugger.com
So, next time you’re looking for some ideas on how to dote on your sweetheart, you may want to take some cues from the animal kingdom. From some low-key cuddling to an exciting dance session, there’s something for everyone. In fact, if you spend some time at Glade Run Lake, you may be able to view these courtship behaviors firsthand.
I’ll also let you in on a little secret; my valentine's gift from my hubby this year was a trail cam. While this may not seem like a traditional romantic gift, anyone that knows me knows that I would much rather have a super cool trail cam than some candy and flowers any day. What can I say? He knows the way to my heart!
Turtle Courtship | Hickory Knolls Discovery Center (stcnature.org)
Bald Eagle Sex: The Acrobatic Mating of America's National Bird (livescience.com)
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (fws.gov)
Owl Valentines: Hoots and Rodents, Not Hearts, Flowers (paducahsun.com)
Brilliant Flash: Red-winged Blackbird Territorial Displays | Bird Academy, The Cornell Lab (allaboutbirds.org)
DNR: Fish & Wildlife: Muskrat (in.gov)
About the Author
Lisa Busa joined the Glade Run Lake Conservancy Board of Directors in October 2020. She performs lake stewardship activities, helps with fundraising, and assists with species inventory. Learn more about Lisa here.